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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3099

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General)(9.25) —in reply-Were I a naive and gullible soul I would be indebted, I suppose, to Senator Watson and Senator Hill for suggesting that the private member's Bill which I introduced into this place a couple of years ago was a far better Bill than the one now before us. Of course, suggestions to this effect are merely mischievous and I am perfectly satisfied that the negotiations with industry and others carried out by the Treasury Ministers, Messrs Keating and Hurford-whose legislation this now of course is, rather than the Attorney-General's-have produced a package which is perfectly workable in practice while at the same time retaining all the key elements of the original package.

I remind the Senate to the extent that the forest might have been lost sight of in the debate about the trees, or the saplings, from the evangelical Senator Watson and others, that the basic Bill is aimed at strengthening the financial stability of the insurance industry overall and protecting the insuring public against the negligence or misconduct of an agent or broker and encouraging practices consistent with the interests of the insuring public and the maintenance of standards of conduct and the quality of advice offered by agents and brokers. The main provisions of this Bill, which are exactly the same as the main provisions proposed originally by the Law Reform Commission and advanced in the original versions of the legislation debated in the past in this place, are these: Establishing the responsibilities of insurers for the conduct of their intermediaries-a massive and very important reform; determining the arrangements concerning the discharge of financial obligations between an insured and intermediaries; dealing with questions of misrepresentation by intermediaries; requiring the annual registration of brokers and permitting the suspension or cancellation of that registration; establishing financial controls and requirements for insurance which indemnifies brokers in respect of liabilities arising out of their business operations and establishing measures to minimise the risk of compromise of a broker's impartiality.

There is always a difficulty in satisfying everybody when one brings forward regulatory legislation of any kind. Certainly it was impossible to satisfy the Liberal Party of Australia when it was in government that any legislation of any description was necessary in this area. Although there were some honourable exceptions to that approach in the Liberal Party when it was in government, including honourable senators from the other side of the chamber who have spoken in this debate, it is the case that the mainstream of the Party wholly set its face against any kind of legislation in this area in a wholly irrational way. Equally, when it comes to the task of drafting such legislation reasonable men and women will differ on the extent and variety of the particular controls that are necessary or appropriate and the kind of cost-benefit analysis that needs to be done to determine whether the apparatus that is being proposed is in fact necessary or justifies the beneficial return to the persons whose interests are supposed to be being protected.

All of these equations and calculations have been done in the context of the preparation of this legislation. A lot of discussion obviously has taken place with the insurance industry in the refining of the details of this legislation. We do not believe there has been any sell-out at all of the basic principles that were so well articulated by the Law Reform Commission. We believe this is good legislation, powerful legislation, and effective legislation, that will be of real advantage to Australian consumers and to those within the industry whose desire is to clean it up and rationalise it in this area. On that basis I commend the legislation and the accompanying Life Insurance Amendment Bill, which has attracted no attention in this debate, but which is merely consequential on the recent passage of the insurance contracts legislation. I commend these measures to the Senate. I wish the Bills a speedy voyage.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bills read a second time, and passed through their remaining stages without amendment or debate.