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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17428


Mr ANDREN (9:47 AM) —As I was saying last night when I was so politely interrupted by the Speaker, we need a national fund similar to New Zealand's accident compensation scheme. That scheme provides cover for injuries no matter who is at fault and pays weekly compensation equivalent to 80 per cent of normal earnings, to a maximum of $1,300. The scheme pays for medical bills, rehabilitation, retraining, counselling, home and vehicle modification—any of the costs that arise from the injury itself.

It seems that, rather than embracing this sort of broad community contributory scheme, the government in its economic philosophy does not want to have any involvement in commercial activities. Yet I put it to the government that Medicare, in its existing state—heaven knows what shape it might be in down the track—provides a model for universal health coverage. I believe we also need a model for universal environmental health care. Indeed, a universal contributory scheme for this sort of insurance strikes me as the most economical way of delivering the maximum bang for the buck in payouts. As I said last night, at the moment in Australia the money is given to families in a lump sum, and the person may or may not survive for many years after that. Therefore, that money is wasted for the purposes for which it was intended.

Further, compulsory contributions from businesses, organisations and individuals and a tariff on petrol and licences specifically for motor accidents also help to fund the New Zealand scheme. Contrary to claims made last year by the government, New Zealand's scheme does not have out-of-control unfunded liability. Also, recent reforms have actually reduced the premiums and lowered the liability raised prior to those recent reforms. In return, except in cases of gross negligence involving criminal neglect, the injured may not sue for compensation to cover these damages, because their needs are provided for. More to the point, there is no need for individuals and groups to pay exorbitant prices for specific public liability cover. I know that this threatens both the insurance industry and the legal fraternity, but maybe it is time to address the wellbeing of all members of our community.

Over a year ago, on 3 June 2002, I put a motion on the Notice Paper which stated that this House should look at providing such a scheme, which is well within the constitutional powers of the Commonwealth. Part of that motion said:

That this House:

(1) recognises that there is no Constitutional impediment to Commonwealth regulation of insurance claims procedures and the magnitude of insurance claims;

(2) recognises that the Commonwealth has the power to prescribe conditions upon which any person may carry out insurance business of any kind and establish any mechanisms for the supervision of such person and corporations and to regulate their affairs, under section 51(xiv) of the Constitution;

(3) recognises that the Commonwealth uses this power to regulate the Insurance Act 1973; the Life Insurance Act 1995 and the Insurance Contracts Act 1984;

(4) calls on the Commonwealth to order an inquiry by the Australian Law Reform Commission into the feasibility of a Commonwealth legislative scheme for the insurance industry ...

I think that would have afforded the necessary debate. It was never debated, but I believe it remains the only direct solution to the problem of providing universal and affordable insurance cover for all, especially those community groups in my electorate. As I said earlier in my speech, they continue to find it almost impossible in some cases to raise insurance. The proposal I have put up offers an alternative that absolutely ensures that those community groups—the show societies, fetes, jam stalls and so on—can continue to contribute in that social and very important community way, in particular, to the fabric of rural and regional Australia.