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Thursday, 21 March 2002
Page: 1933


Mr WINDSOR (5:43 PM) —by leave—I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would enable the Member for New England, to move the following motion forthwith:

That the House's program be altered to allow Members to debate the serious issue of public liability insurance to guide the Federal representatives before they attend the inter-government Summit scheduled on the issue for Wednesday 27 March 2002, and that this House—

(1) recognises the widespread distress being caused by the insurance crisis and requires a multi faceted approach by all levels of Government and the community to solve this dilemma;

(2) recognises the comments made by the Prime Minister in Question time last week “that there is not one level of government that can tackle the problem”;

(3) notes with alarm the Treasurer's reply in Question time today that the only Federal Government role will be to facilitate talks on the issue;

(4) acknowledges that under paragraph 51(xiv) of the Australian Constitution insurance is very much a Federal issue and demands that the Prime Minister takes a leadership role in relation to the National Insurance Summit being held on Wednesday 27 March 2002;

(5) acknowledges that this is the last opportunity for this House to send a message to the Government and the States, the views of our constituents prior to the insurance summit;

(6) recommends that a Joint Select Committee of Federal Parliament be established to address this import issue of public liability insurance with the widest possible terms of reference; and

(7) recognises and acknowledges that until a permanent and systemic solution to the public liability insurance crisis is found, the Government must implement emergency measures to allow public life and events to continue without fear of unreasonable public liability exposure.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. I.R. Causley)— Is the motion seconded?


Mr Andren —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.


Mr WINDSOR —We have had a month sitting in this parliament and there have been a lot of issues discussed, from boat people to the Governor-General to what Wayne Carey actually did in someone's home, and the most important issue that is currently before the Australian people—it may not be viewed as such in the eyes of this parliament; judging from the activity that has occurred in the last month it definitely has not been—is public liability insurance and insurance generally.

This issue is having a particularly disastrous effect on country people. I am not suggesting that it is restricted to country people, but the impact on country people is going to occur first. Unless the government, and particularly the Prime Minister, take a more prominent role in this debate, we are going to see the demise of society as we know it in country communities and in many of our city communities as well.

This debate needs to be addressed at a federal level. It does need a national solution. I am fully aware of the states' position in relation to tort law and workers compensation legislation and those sorts of things where the states do have a role, but I think to raise the status of the summit next week we really do need the Prime Minister to play a lead role. The Australian community do not want to see a talkfest, and that is a great concern that many people have—and I do not denigrate anybody that will be attending; I would imagine they are all going to be there hoping that something will be achieved. But unless the leaders of this nation—the Prime Minister, the premiers—come together and try to address this problem, we will just see another talkfest. We cannot, in my view, allow that to happen.

I am rather disgusted that we have had a month of sittings, we have had a rush of bills coming through the House at the moment and, other than a few Independent questions at question time, the issue of insurance has not been raised by the government or the opposition. There has been a constant plea by the Treasurer and the Leader of the House from time to time that `We are very keen to address real issues. Let's get away from who was where in 1992,' but there has been no attempt by either side of the parliament to actually address this issue of great importance to real people in our community. It is a disgrace that that has not taken place.

As the House would be aware, I have tried to use the processes of the chamber, and I have listed this issue as a matter of public importance on three occasions this week so that debate could take place in that forum of the parliament. This has not been granted as a matter of public importance and we have fiddled around with where everybody was in 1992. The parliament itself should start to listen to what the community is saying. They are not particularly concerned about who was where in 1992, but they are very concerned about whether they are going to have their annual show next year, whether they will have their art show, their fundraisers, their various community events. They are very concerned about how they can actually afford to pay for those events next year. Some are very concerned about even operating illegally at the moment in terms of not being able to receive insurance from anybody. It is not just a matter of the insurance premiums becoming too high; it is a matter of some very worthy charitable and voluntary events not being allowed to take place because insurance companies will not cover them at all.

I am aware that there is other business to go through the parliament, but I would urge the government and the opposition to start addressing this issue. If it does mean we have to sit for a few more hours tonight, so be it. This is the most important issue before the parliament. We will not be back for seven weeks. This parliament must express the concern of its constituents to the federal delegation that will be attending the summit next week. Those views must be expressed today so that hopefully the Prime Minister—and if not the Prime Minister then the Treasurer and the Assistant Treasurer—may be able to guide the views of this chamber through that summit debate next week.