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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 27477

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) (10:17 AM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—


The bill proposes to amend the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Care Charges acts 1995. The acts were passed to ensure that, when plaintiffs go to court to recover damages for personal injuries, they would repay to the Commonwealth the cost of any Medicare and residential care benefits received because of the injury.

The bill arises from a review of the acts undertaken for the government by the former Commissioner for Superannuation, Mr George Pooley. In consultation with the Health Insurance Commission, the legal profession, insurers and the minister's department, Mr Pooley examined the operations and the administration of the acts. Mr Pooley found that the compensation recovery program, governed by the acts, has proved cumbersome and burdensome for all parties. He made a number of recommendations to improve these processes, and to minimise the burdens and frustrations for all parties—but especially those waiting for their compensation payouts to be released to them.

Currently, 50 per cent of every dollar recovered by the Commonwealth is consumed by administration costs. This bill will provide for a saving of $6.5 million in the first full year of operation. The proposed amendments simplify the recovery process for notifying claims, and streamline the processes to allow a clearer and more manageable path from claim to resolution of incurred Commonwealth debt. The proposed reforms in this bill will significantly reduce the number of settlements and judgments that are required to be notified to the Commonwealth by setting the minimum amount of a judgment or settlement that must be notified at $5,000 or above.

Importantly, the bill eliminates any necessity for the notification of a potential judgment or settlement. This removes the excessive requirement placed on insurers and/or the injured party to notify the Commonwealth of a possible compensable case, regardless of the likely success of any claim for compensation.

The bill will also provide a genuine power to audit the integrity of claims and to allow a more effective checking process of claimant details and medical history to ensure that there is an appropriate recovery of Commonwealth debt. More emphasis will be on the claimant to provide assurances, through the provision of statutory declarations, on the level of Medicare or residential care costs associated with their judgment and settlements.

The advanced payment option that currently allows claimants to receive 90 per cent of their judgment or settlement moneys once the case has been resolved has been retained for the time being. In addition to that arrangement, a provision has been included to allow the Commonwealth to set a sliding scale of the advanced payment option by regulation, which will allow claimants to receive a better targeted share of their award initially on settlement or judgment. This will provide flexibility in the future to ensure that injured persons receive as much as possible of their settlement as early as possible. That predetermined percentage will still be forwarded to the Commonwealth for reconciliation of debt. The balance will, as now, then be forwarded to the claimant upon debt clearance. This will result in the debt to the Commonwealth being more effectively recovered and the claimant having greater and faster access to more of their money without having to wait until final debt liability is verified.

The review examined the appropriateness of continuing the advanced payment options, considering that at the time of their introduction they were only to be a temporary measure. This was the case as the initial period of recoveries resulted in major administrative backlogs in processing the claims by both insurers and the Commonwealth. As the processes have been streamlined over time and further streamlining occurs through these proposed changes, such a temporary arrangement should be strategically removed. This helps lawyers and insurers more than the claimants. This bill, therefore, includes a provision for the insertion of a sunset clause for the advanced payment option arrangements from 2004. This will provide an introductory period of time to enable the new streamlined arrangement to be bedded down.

The new arrangements will be simpler, more efficient and keep impositions on claimants to a minimum. Simpler claiming and administrative processes will allow the speedier release of final compensation settlements or judgments and reduce the worry and red tape for recipients and their families.

Mr Pooley has the thanks of the government and the parliament for his hard and considered work, as do those who played such a constructive role in contributing to the review which has led to this very important and, indeed, landmark legislation.



The purpose of the retirement assistance for farmers scheme was to meet welfare and rural adjustment objectives by providing an opportunity for low income, pension age farmers and their partners to gift the farm to the younger generation without affecting their access to social security payments. The legislation provides for the scheme to finish on 30 June 2001. There are however some farmers who, while otherwise eligible under the scheme, had not finalised the transfer of their farm by 30 June 2001. The purpose of the bill is to provide those farmers with extra time in which to take advantage of the scheme.

In effect, the bill allows an extra period of time to finalise transfers for those farmers who contacted Centrelink prior to 1 August 2001 to enquire about their eligibility and who are subsequently advised by Centrelink that they would attract the benefits of the scheme if the transfer was undertaken. These farmers can still qualify for assistance under the scheme provided the transfer is finalised within 3 months from when Centrelink responded to their enquiry.

The bill also provides for similar arrangements in respect of farmers applying for Department of Veterans' Affairs income support pensions and who wish to take advantage of the scheme.

Debate (on motion by Senator Denman) adjourned.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.

Ordered that the resumption of the debate be made an order of the day for a later hour.