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Monday, 9 December 2002
Page: 7398


Senator WATSON (3:33 PM) —I remind the Senate that public liability is primarily the responsibility of the state governments. It is true that before 15 November this year there was some possibility that we may not have reached unanimous agreement amongst the states. There was a suggestion that they may go their own way in a number of areas. It is a tribute to the leadership and the chairmanship provided by Senator Coonan that, at that historic meeting, she drew all the people involved, the state premiers and others, to the need to get some commonality of approach and uniformity. This has been achieved. Undoubtedly, that date is an important milestone for Australia. Public liability insurance in terms of awards and costs had become quite out of hand and was unfortunately affecting much of Australia's way of life. Senator Coonan, as Senator Chapman has indicated, has had four important meetings which have brought together the contentious and outstanding issues to get a very important resolution.

In raising this today the question I have to ask the opposition is: where have you been? Haven't you been reading newspapers? Haven't you been keeping abreast of these important issues? Are you out of contact with the community you are supposed to serve? Are you not fully acquainted with the problems and the solutions that Senator Coonan and her colleagues have been able to bring to bear? In a sense, I think this take note debate and the matters that have come from the government are a reflection on the Labor Party's lack of closeness with the electorate they serve. Maybe they gave that responsibility to their colleagues in the lower house. It is an important responsibility, whether you are in this house or in the House of Representatives, to keep very much abreast of the issues that affect your electorate. Certainly, public liability is one of these issues.

What came out of that important and historic agreement is that ministers have agreed to a package of reforms which implement key recommendations of the review of the law of negligence, which we refer to as the Ipp report. It is a very important report. To suggest that the Commonwealth has not taken a leadership role and that it has not taken adequate action in relation to the limited areas is to forget that it has a limited responsibility—but it has had a coordinating role. It has fulfilled that coordinating role remarkably well, and it would appear that we are going to get some very satisfactory outcomes.

The Commonwealth, of course, has introduced the Taxation Laws Amendment (Structured Settlements) Bill 2002. The bill is designed to provide tax concessions for periodic payments to seriously injured people who receive large damages so they are not disadvantaged by taking periodic payments rather than a lump sum. Again, this is another initiative of Senator Coonan and it is a bill that has gone through this place. For people to raise questions of the nature that have been raised today is quite extraordinary.

I find it disappointing that members of the Senate raise questions about the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal and attack the integrity of Michael Baume. Michael Baume was certainly a very fine senator. Assertions have been made that he has been a mate of the Prime Minister. If prime ministers and all of us had friends with the loyalty and respect of Michael Baume, this world would be a much better place. It is true; I acknowledge that he has been a great friend of the Prime Minister. That is nothing to be snide about. That is a tribute both to the character of the Prime Minister and to Michael Baume. They have a lot to offer. Naturally, Mr McDonald, I understand, is not seeking reappointment to the Superannuation Complaints Tribunal. (Time expired)