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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Page: 127

Mr DUTTON (Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer) (10:37 AM) —On behalf of the government, I thank those on both the government and opposition sides for their contributions to the debate on the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Amendment Bill 2006. I note in particular the contribution by the member for Fairfax. His electorate is just to the north of mine, and the Caboolture Hospital is located halfway between our electorates. He knows only too well the effects on both his constituents and mine of the mismanagement of the Caboolture Hospital by the Beattie government. It is indicative, regrettably, of the way in which Queensland Health has over a period of time deteriorated to a point where people’s lives are put at risk in our constituencies. It is something that spin can no longer cover up. The people of Queensland are very serious about demanding a better bang for their health buck, and they are very deserving of it.

As the Minister for Health and Ageing explained in his second reading speech, the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act enables the Commonwealth to recover Medicare, residential care and related payments once a compensation case, usually common law or WorkCover, is settled in a claimant’s favour. As damages take into account the full costs of the injury, including Medicare costs, the double dipped costs are paid back to consolidated revenue.

The act provides for an advance payment option, or APO. This APO allows compensation payers and insurers to deposit 10 per cent of the judgment or settlement with the Health Insurance Commission, with the balance going straight to the claimant. In this way, claimants are not disadvantaged while the exact amount owing to the Commonwealth is sorted out. Any deposit in excess of the recoverable amount is refunded. The APO was passed by the Senate with a sunset clause which expires on 30 June 2006. The main aim of the bill is to extend the provision in perpetuity. It is unfair to the taxpayer that claimants can be doubly compensated for expenses for which Medicare and other Commonwealth payments have already been made.

There were understandable reservations in 1996 about how this arrangement would work. At the time, there was concern that claimants could be disadvantaged by paying moneys up front as a bond to the HIC, but it is now very clear that these measures have worked in the interests of claimants. The Insurance Council of Australia and the Law Council of Australia support the continuation of the APO. Clearly, they benefit from quicker access to client fees and lower administrative costs. But, more importantly, clients are very happy. Complaints from clients about delays to settlements are almost nonexistent, and it appears that clients are particularly happy that their overall settlements are not tied up while the fine details of debts to the Commonwealth are sorted out. For battling families with compo or personal injury settlements, this could be vital to their financial situation. These amendments, as well as the other minor technical amendments also contained in this bill, are commonsense and fair, and I commend the bill to the Main Committee.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.