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Thursday, 22 August 1996
Page: 2923

Senator NEAL(1.00 p.m.) —The Health and Other Services (Compensation) Amendment Bill 1996 is supported by the opposition. The original bill was introduced during the period of the last government. Essentially, it was brought in to ensure that third party personal claims were not paid out, that moneys owing to the Commonwealth for Medicare, and possibly nursing home costs, were repaid before the plaintiffs received their funds.

Although essentially worth while and effective in having Commonwealth funds repaid, unfortunately the legislation had the unhappy consequence for many plaintiffs that, because of the time delay required for the assessment of funds owing to the Commonwealth, in fact they had to wait for very long periods. I am advised by members of the legal fraternity, in particular, that there is a huge backlog as we speak. Essentially, this bill resolves the matter by allowing 90 per cent of the funds to be paid out to the plaintiff and for 10 per cent to be retained until the assessment of moneys owing to the Commonwealth is made. Evidence suggests that, in the vast majority of cases, this will cover the money owed to the Commonwealth, which appears to be, on average, in the range of seven per cent.

I suppose there are circumstances, though you would think unusual, where the money owed to the Commonwealth will be in excess of that 10 per cent. In those circumstances, I have been assured that the plaintiff will be contacted and some convivial arrangement will be made for the repayment of those funds. I am told that there will not be any unfair pressure put on plaintiffs; that nothing will be repossessed that might make their lives difficult or generally cause problems; and that arrangements will be made, in an orderly fashion, for the repayment of anything beyond that 10 per cent.

Essentially, the opposition supports the legislation. There is, I understand, some retrospectivity in this bill. Generally, in a situation where the effect of legislation adversely affected members of the general community, you would have to be very concerned but, in this case, the retrospectivity acts to the benefit of those members of the public who are affected. That being the case, I am very happy to support it.