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Tuesday, 5 June 2001
Page: 27250

FRAN BAILEY (3:13 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation. Would the minister inform the House what the government is doing to help those men and women who are suffering hardship as a result of the collapse of HIH, like so many in my electorate of McEwen? Minister, can you advise the House of any specific measures the government has undertaken to help people who have lost their income due to the collapse and who need immediate help?

Mr HOCKEY (Minister for Financial Services and Regulation) —To the member for McEwen: thank you for the question. I know that the member for McEwen is one of a number of members who have raised significant issues with the government in relation to the collapse of HIH. The government has today announced that the total of its package of support is $640 million over the next four years, which is fully accounted for in the budget. That money will be added to by payments that we can send to those who are on salary continuance insurance and other forms of insurance before then. In fact, we anticipate that the first cheques will be sent out this Friday to those people who had salary continuance insurance and disability insurance, and that is going to provide them with substantial relief as soon as possible. I will be introducing into the parliament an appropriation bill to account for the $640 million and we would require the parliament to pass that as quickly as possible so that substantial funds can start flowing from 1 July. We will be looking for the support of the Labor Party in expediting the passage of that legislation through this place.

I can also add that the work of the HIH Claims Support company, which has been set up by the Insurance Council, is already well under way, and I can advise the House of the appointment of Dallas Booth as the Chief Executive of HCS and that Mr Dick Warburton has agreed to be the Chairman of HCS. There will be an appeals mechanism put in place. For anyone who does not meet the criteria we have established for the hardship support package, there is an appeals package process that we have put in place. That appeals process is going to be chaired by Bill McLennan, who was the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and he will have a panel that will assess some of the anomalies in the criteria for the package.

More than 5,000 people have contacted the HIH hardship hotline following an extensive education program through the media where we have tried to advise as many claimants as possible of the support that the Commonwealth government is providing. In effect, this is an act of compassion from one part of the Australian community to the other. It is very important that people recognise that this is not a precedent for financial services collapses. It is an act of hardship support to help those people who have been hardest hit by the collapse of Australia's second largest general insurer. It is the act of a compassionate community and it is the act of a compassionate government.