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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7395


Senator LUDWIG (3:17 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer (Senator Coonan) to questions without notice asked today.

It was surprising, if not downright incredible, to hear what the Assistant Treasurer said today when she was given an opportunity to explain the inconsistency between, on the one hand, the answer that she gave in this house to the question on the report by Justice Ipp and, on the other hand, the matter she raised in the Australian Financial Review.

I suspect that Senator Coonan, with respect, is too concerned about her personal affairs to worry about the questions that are asked in here. It would pay her more to listen to the questions and answer them. The question that was asked by Senator Collins last week and Senator Crossin today was: what steps has the minister taken to promote the implementation of recommendation 57 of the Ipp report on the law of negligence? That was where it started. Recommendation 57 of the Ipp report deals with structured settlements and mediation. The answer we got back was really all over the place. In reply she said:

Nevertheless, the answer to Senator Collins's question as to what have I personally done about the implementation of Mr Justice Ipp's recommendations in relation to mediation and personal injury claims is very simple: absolutely nothing—

absolutely nothing!—

because the Commonwealth has no jurisdiction over personal injury matters.


Senator Sherry —So not a thing!


Senator LUDWIG —If she had done nothing—not a thing—then why does she write a paper entitled Turningthetide, which goes into her role in relation to the Ipp report, given that she was also the minister responsible for the reforms in personal injury insurance? If she has done nothing about it, then one wonders whether she has just forgotten her role as Assistant Treasurer. It appears that she must have. Not only has she forgotten the paper that was on her web site entitled Turningthetide: insurance in Australia—2002 in profile but the guts of that paper then appeared in the legal affairs section of the Australian Financial Review on Friday, 6 December. So what we have discovered is that Senator Coonan is more interested in talking to the papers than in talking to the Senate. She comes in here and says, `I've got a blank'—she is like a rabbit startled by a spotlight. But when she then takes the trouble to talk to a paper she becomes very effusive. She manages to give the media the whole box and dice. In fact she manages to claim, and I quote from the legal affairs section of the Australian Financial Review but it is also in the Turningthetide paper:

Turning the Ipp vision into a reality has required strong leadership from the Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

It cannot be coming from Senator Coonan, because she cannot remember anything about it, so I do not know who she is talking about. It then goes on to say:

At the last ministerial meeting held in Brisbane, ministers made a landmark commitment to reform the law of negligence in accordance with the majority of Ipp's recommendations.

For the first time there was agreement for a national law of negligence.

Clearly, Senator Coonan must have forgotten that she had been in Brisbane and called a meeting. It appears she must have absolutely and completely forgotten that. She has forgotten or at least does not want to tell the Senate—that is the choice we have. We have to consider whether Senator Coonan has either forgotten the issue or cannot recall it. It is really difficult to tell.

Senator Coonan should get on with it. She should tell the Senate what the issues are with the law of negligence and what this government is doing about them, but if we take her word for it this government is doing nothing about it. That is what we are told. Senator Coonan should start to liven up her act and explain what this government is doing rather than simply say, `I can't remember.' Who are we to believe? Do we believe Senator Coonan in the AustralianFinancial Review or Senator Coonan—apparently the same person; she does not have a twin— who comes into this place and says, `I can't remember anything about it'? It is about time that Senator Coonan—(Time expired)