Public Liability Insurance
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [11.30 a.m.]: I move:
(1) notes the overwhelming community support, as evidenced in two community meetings held in Cootamundra and Forbes, for reform of public liability insurance, and support for capping or reducing damages for personal injury, and the exemption of volunteers and small community organisations from liability.
(2) calls on Federal, State and local governments to launch an education program aimed at convincing people to "stop suing each other" and to "accept responsibility for themselves".
Since I gave notice of this motion and after holding two forums on public liability insurance in Cootamundra and Forbes there has been an overwhelming response to this issue from people in every town, village, city and suburb in New South Wales. Public liability insurance is an issue that affects virtually everyone. The social, cultural and sporting life of our communities is seriously affected—in some cases it is drastically affected—because of the cost of public liability insurance. In some cases people simply cannot obtain public liability insurance cover for special annual events. Town centenary celebrations cannot be put off—100 years is 100 years. If we cannot obtain public liability insurance to cover such an event we will have to wait for another hundred years. I doubt whether many people will be around for the second celebration.
Every year the New South Wales Land Rover Club, which is based in Newcastle, organises a week-long drive somewhere in New South Wales for its patrons. At present that club simply cannot afford public liability insurance. A small hotel in Burcher—Burcher is located in the west of New South Wales and it has a population of 40—is owned by a resident of the Ryde district. For some years patrons of Burcher Hotel have been travelling to Ryde to play cricket on Ryde oval with members of the Ryde Returned Services Leagues Club. This year the cricket team was told that it needed its own public liability insurance. As the average age of cricketers is over 60, it is not likely that they will be doing any damage. However, they might fall over on the cricket oval. A group of 14 people who have strong religious beliefs and who meet in a room at one of our larger city council chambers have been told that they cannot have that room unless they carry their own public liability insurance. This crisis has reached dramatic levels. A letter dated 17 March states:
I am an active supporter of sport in New South Wales and my sport of Cycling is currently experiencing difficulties in maintaining its viability through the burden of costs imposed on it from outside parties.
Recently as you may be aware the costs of Public Liability Insurance Premiums are being steeply increased across various Councils and Shires in our state to the point where Cycling New South Wales and its clubs are now being asked to pay beyond their means.
The effect of this is that my club and others will find it impossible to meet the demands of insurance premiums, will be forced to close and will not be able to provide the health and other benefits that sport provides. There can be no doubt about the benefit of sports across the community both in terms of peoples wellbeing and the contribution this makes in reducing the burden on the taxpayer in the health bill.
Cycling New South Wales
There is nothing more basic than cycling down the street or round the park or using a cycle for exercise or for fun. I received this completely unsolicited letter—
Mr George: I received it too.
Mr ARMSTRONG: The honourable member for Lismore, and I suspect most other honourable members, also received this letter, which states that it might be impossible for people to cycle in the future as they simply cannot afford to obtain insurance. Tomorrow the 2002 Royal Easter Show will commence. Over the past 150 years one of the highlights of the show has been the ring events—ponies, hacks and harness horses. It is a wonderful spectacle. Most of those ponies are ridden by juveniles in a number of classes, for example, the under 9 and under 10 classes. Those juveniles ride ponies for recreation. During the 1993-94 bushfires more than 8,000 horses were moved in the county of Cumberland. I do not know how many ponies were moved during the Christmas bushfires.
Riding is a major recreational sport. The largest horse riding association in Australia is the Australian Stock Horse Society, which has just under 10,000 members. A few years ago the Roads and Traffic Authority informed me that 8,000 to 9,000 recreational horses are moved every weekend around this State. Events such as camp drafts, rodeos and charity gymkhanas will not be able to be held and riding schools and clubs will be unable to function because they simply cannot afford the public liability insurance premiums. It is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that quality of life is maintained in our community, which is one of the reasons I have moved this motion today.
Yesterday the Premier referred to a number of aspects concerning public liability insurance and he said that those matters were under consideration or they were matters to which this Government was going to give further thought. The Premier included in those aspects a cap on insurance premiums, an exemption for volunteers and charitable organisations and a threshold. Those measures would be welcome but so far nothing has happened. His statements have not helped anybody. The Premier and the Government will have to change the regulations and introduce legislation if they wish to assist those organisations. We must move quickly in this area.
On 27 March Senator Coonan will hold a national conference on public liability insurance in Canberra. Each State will be represented at that conference. I suspect that there will be much rhetoric but it will take 12 months or more before we see the results of that conference. However, the cyclists, horse riders, Land Rover clubs and the Tumblong Progress Association—which is staging a centenary celebration in the Burrinjuck electorate—cannot wait for 12 months. Cricketers in Burcher and Ryde, a wool festival in Forbes and a billycart race at Hay cannot wait for another 12 months. Honourable members will remember the saga involving the selling of Anzac Day pins at various malls. I understand that the Government has taken action in that regard, mainly through RSL clubs.
Some organisations have got together and they are pooling their resources so that they can bulk buy public liability insurance. The Government should give them every encouragement and assistance to achieve that aim. The New South Wales Agricultural Society council has pooled its insurance for some years now. It has been able to obtain cover for the next 12 months for an increase of only 5 per cent on last year's premium. Queensland has just gone through the same exercise. Its increase in premiums is 70 per cent and the increase in premiums for South Australia is 15 per cent. More work must be done in this area. New South Wales is fine as claims in this State are low. As individuals we all have a responsibility for the health and welfare of others. If I slipped and fell down a step at the home of any member I would view that fall as being my fault.
If my grandchildren are playing in the local council park one of them might climb up an old peppertree, fall out of the tree, and break an arm. That is what kids do. Kids also fall off ponies. Although they should not do so, kids also go down public pool waterslides backwards and crack their teeth. It might cost more than $12,000 to have their teeth fixed. If the council owns the waterslide, they then try to recover that $12,000 from the council. But if a similar incident occurs in my backyard, they get nothing. Surely there are risks in life that we have to take. People cannot expect councils, governments, supermarket owners or apartment block owners to take responsibility for accidents that occur as part of our daily lives. After all, human beings are fairly clumsy. I call on the Government to spend a little bit of funding on educating people in that regard. We must remember that when we put our kids on a bike, let them climb up a peppertree or go down a waterslide in a public pool, they are our responsibility. That is part of growing up; it is part of life. We must not expect someone else to give us a free meal ticket just because of an accident for which we were responsible.
Mr STEWART (Bankstown—Parliamentary Secretary) [11.40 a.m.]: The Government is well aware of the enormous increases in premiums being paid by non-government organisations, voluntary organisations and small businesses for public liability insurance. Many of the largest increases seem to apply to organisations that can least afford them, organisations that make an integral contribution to the community by providing aged care; support to children, teenagers and adults with disabilities; much-needed recreational activities in country towns, and out-of-school care. Church groups are also affected. As the honourable member for Lachlan rightly pointed out, rural groups are especially hard hit by the increases. Finding a solution to this problem is critical for the whole community. As we all know, the Premier made a comprehensive statement on this matter yesterday. The Premier's statement provided considerable detail of what the Government proposes to do and what, in complementary fashion, the Commonwealth should undertake to do. The statement has been generally well received as a responsible and well-considered package based on detailed research and analysis. It is a shining example of New South Wales leading the way on important issues.
In contrast, the Opposition spokesperson on this issue, the honourable member for Southern Highlands, contented herself with chanting a few poorly considered slogans and making a couple of motherhood statements without any real meaning or substance; they were simply rhetoric without any foundation. The paucity of the Opposition's contribution to this vital debate is shown in an article in the Cooma-Monaro Express of 14 March. In that article the former member for Monaro, Peter Cochran, a strong stalwart of the National Party and a good mate of the honourable member for Lachlan who is known to members of this House for his robust communication style, put his finger on the weaknesses of the honourable member for Southern Highlands. In the article Peter Cochran slammed her pathetic politicisation of this issue. He derided her for meaningless political spin doctoring that does nothing to address the real problems being faced in country areas. How right he is! What robust country commonsense he shows!
Ms Hodgkinson: Point of order: The Parliamentary Secretary is clearly misleading the House. The honourable member for Southern Highlands has worked very hard on this issue.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch): Order! The Parliamentary Secretary has the call.
Mr STEWART: I want to give credit to the honourable member for Lachlan as well. At the outset he acknowledged that this public liability crisis must be addressed by a multipronged approach. We applaud that; it is a sensible and commonsense approach. He shows sensible leadership in that regard. It is a great tragedy that he no longer leads the National Party. As he said, insurance companies, lawyers, and State and Federal governments must all come to the party. He has not indulged in the simple-minded sloganeering and rhetoric of the honourable member for Southern Highlands. Members of the House, with the exception of the honourable member for Southern Highlands, know that we cannot find the answers to this problem unless we first analyse its causes. It is important to note that the premium increases have a number of causes, including the increasing number of claims, cyclical economic factors and the collapse of HIH Insurance.
The latest JP Morgan 2002 interim insurance survey, also known as the Deloittes Trowbridge survey, dated 25 February states that the main reason for insurers' withdrawal from the market is that the business has been unprofitable. The report notes that the business has been historically underpriced and that there has been an increase in both the size and frequency of claims. Other sources indicate that HIH had a market share of about 40 per cent of public liability policies, a massive market share. Other insurers do not want all of that business. A further factor in insurance pricing increases is likely to be the introduction of new prudential standards by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority [APRA]. These standards require insurers to have greater capital reserves and to charge premiums to cover a higher level of risk than before. Those new standards make public liability insurance less attractive for insurers and more expensive for consumers.
In addition to these market-based reasons for increasing public liability insurance premiums, it cannot be denied that the number of claims and the amounts awarded in contested claims have increased. The Government has highlighted that. According to APRA, the number of liability claims has increased by around 50 per cent in the past three years. The factors I have described as driving public liability insurance increases are national issues. They are not matters that the State Government can resolve. The Government has made that point repeatedly. National leadership is essential on this issue. The Commonwealth Government must act to address the causes of the public liability insurance crisis and develop solutions. The Government welcomes the offer of a forum extended by Senator Coonan, the Minister for Financial Services Regulation.
It is incontestable that the Federal Government has exclusive responsibility under the Commonwealth Constitution for the regulation of the insurance industry. Despite the urging of the Premier and the Treasurer, the Howard Government has refused to acknowledge any responsibility for public liability insurance. The Premier wrote to the Prime Minister on 22 November last year calling for a national insurance summit. No response was received until 27 January this year. Given the collapse of HIH and other factors that have contributed to this public liability insurance crisis, it is appalling that it took the Prime Minister until 27 January to reply to a letter that the Premier wrote in November last year. In his reply the Prime Minister said he saw no need to convene a national summit on this issue. The Commonwealth Assistant Treasurer, Senator Coonan, now acknowledges the gravity of the situation —and so she should. There will be a summit on 27 March that will be attended by all States and Territories to discuss public liability.
Mr George: Thanks to Helen Coonan.
Mr STEWART: Thanks to this State initiating the direction and focus. The New South Wales Government looks forward to playing a constructive role in those discussions. Some of the solutions I have already suggested lie not with government but with the insurance industry. The industry needs to be accountable and to take responsibility for this problem. The industry will need to consider improving the way it undertakes risk profiles of certain organisations, so that an organisation with an excellent claims history is not unfairly burdened by premiums. The industry will also have to look at developing improved long-term risk management practices of its own.
In addition, as I have already said, it is clear that insurance companies will have to follow other branches of the financial services industry and demonstrate a greater commitment to their social obligations towards consumers and the wider community. The comments I have made should not be taken as meaning that the State Government is not acting to address the problem. The State Government has already held discussions with the Insurance Council of Australia, the New South Wales Council of Social Services, arts and sporting organisations and local government about the causes and effects of the problems with the public liability insurance. A $600 million rescue package has been put in place as a consequence of the collapse of HIH Insurance.
The matter is now in hand with the focus of this summit. I reiterate that the Government is especially aware of the position of volunteers who can be exposed to claims, even when they do their best to provide a safe service. The contribution of volunteers to the community cannot be underestimated, and the Government wants to extend some protection to the services they provide. The strategies I have outlined will shield volunteers from unmeritorious claims that deter community groups from providing services to the community at large.
In conclusion, I reiterate that this complex problem is not confined to New South Wales. It is a national problem, and a comprehensive national solution is required. Monitoring the insurance industry for anticompetitive practices under the Trade Practices Act, considering the need to subject the industry to price monitoring under the Prices Surveillance Act and examining the current conduct of insurers towards consumers, including small businesses, to assess whether unconscionable tactics are being used are matters that should be discussed at the summit. We must deal with the problem in partnership with the Federal Government and with the co-operation of other States. The ball is in the Federal Government's court, and we need the Federal Government's assistance with this massive problem.
Mr GEORGE (Lismore) [11.49 a.m.]: I support the motion moved by the honourable member for Lachlan. Like all members of this House, I am concerned about the affordability and availability of public liability insurance and the impact of premiums on small business communities, groups, local councils, halls, showgrounds—the list goes on. I have been unable to find one place on the map that is not affected by the problem of public liability insurance; it affects each and every one of us in this State. Public liability insurance is the responsibility of State governments. It is all very well for the Parliamentary Secretary to say that it is a national problem, but it is the State Government's responsibility. The State Government collects millions of dollars each year in stamp duty, and it must do something about the problem. Rhetoric is not good enough; the State Government must take action.
Thank goodness the Howard Government is doing something about the problem. Senator Helen Coonan has organised a conference to be held on 27 March, and I expect the New South Wales Government to participate. Like all members of this House, I have received many letters about public liability insurance. I received a letter from the Northern Rivers ME/CFS/FM Support Association Incorporated, a small organisation in Lismore, thanking me for meeting them to discuss the dreadful situation with public liability insurance in this State. That organisation received a letter from GIO Australia which stated:
I refer to your policy …
Please be advised that due to changed underwriting guidelines GIO Australia is unable to offer renewal of the above policy.
Everyone is facing the same problem. I received a letter from the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils Incorporated. I am pleased to welcome to the gallery the Mayor of Richmond Valley Council, three Richmond Valley councillors and Mayor Bob Gates of Lismore City Council. They wrote to me on 11 December. Local government is facing big problems with public liability insurance. I also received a letter from Robert Clarke of Levuka Park, a four-wheel drive park at Urbenville, which stated:
That injection of money in the local economy is much needed in these small areas. The letter further stated:
Our business attracts several thousand people annually from southern Queensland who inject a huge amount of cash into the local shops …
I received a good submission from North Coast Financial Services, which specialises in insurance. The Managing Director, Tim Parry, made five sensible suggestions, which the Government should take on board. I will highlight his suggested strategies to help alleviate the problem. The submissions stated:
One of my fellow Park owners who have motor bikes have been hit with huge premium increase of 1400 per cent which makes it difficult to remain viable …
Sir we do need your support to lobby the NSW Government to enact Legislation to cap the ridiculous payouts for very minor injuries, rehabilitation should be used with some compensation for income loss.
I. Cap on common law payouts …
II. Limit common law payouts only to those suffering severe and permanent injury …
III. Put some strength into the effectiveness of "disclaimer notices" …
IV. Massive lump sums should not be given. Instead, a lifetime annuity should be made available to the injured person and this should cease on that persons death. Enough money should be made available for every initial expense such as medical, carers, house or vehicle modifications etc. After that weekly payments should be made.
V. More stringent supervision of the insurance industry is necessary, with adequate prudential resources and regular thorough reporting.
I encourage the Parliamentary Secretary to take those suggestions on board. I am honoured to support the motion moved by the honourable member for Lachlan.
Mr HICKEY (Cessnock) [11.54 a.m.]: I thank honourable members for the opportunity to participate in this debate. Public liability insurance is undoubtedly one of the most pressing issues facing the Australian community. It is not only a New South Wales problem, as the Opposition would have us believe; it is a nationwide problem that can be fixed only by the concerted efforts of all States and Territories, as well as leadership from the Commonwealth Government. That is why I support the Premier's efforts to tackle this difficult issue. I note some of the measures announced in the House yesterday by the Premier. The public liability package, which is being taken to today's meeting of State Treasurers, contains a series of measures designed to keep frivolous cases out of the courts. I am only too aware of the crucial need to balance a person's right to sue and the need to rein in spiralling legal and insurance costs.
In the Hunter alone many community events have had to be cancelled because of ridiculous and unsustainable insurance premium hikes. It has also affected many council-sponsored events. Indeed, councils are bearing much of the brunt of the public liability issue. For example, Dungog Shire Council has been forced to erect a childproof fence and locked gate around the historic steamroller that sits in Lions Park. That will prevent children from exploring this relic from the past—a pastime enjoyed by children for more than 40 years. Gresford in the Hunter has been forced to cancel the annual Easter Fair billycart derby because of a steep hike in insurance costs to cover liability. The derby is the central fundraising event for the town, which has a population of only 400. It attracts more than 1,000 people and undoubtedly is the town's major tourism drawcard every year.
A Dungog Shire Council survey found that three businesses have closed, including a bed and breakfast operator. As well, two community groups have had to cancel events because of the public liability crisis. In Singleton the crisis has threatened the use of 14 rural halls which are used for weddings, fundraisers and birthday parties. And the famous Scone horse festival, which involves some 100,000 people, is also threatened. Other events under threat are the Gloucester community markets, the Upper Hunter billycart championships, the Quirindi annual fundraising parade, Merriwa's Festival of the Fleeces and the Turill July fireworks night.
The community is paying the price for the lack of commitment by the insurance and legal professions to take this issue seriously. I am aware of the comments made by the legal profession about the proposals put forward by the Premier, and I believe they are unhelpful. Why should a person who is drunk or on drugs be able to claim damages? Why should a good samaritan risk being sued when he or she is helping out in an emergency? Why should a criminal be able to sue his victim after committing a crime? These are just some of the areas the Government is attempting to rectify, as the Premier outlined in his statement yesterday.
We have already begun to tackle this issue with measures including a $600 million rescue package in the wake of the HIH collapse and the review of law reform to mitigate rising insurance costs. We have also introduced a regulation to ban lawyers from advertising in personal injury matters, which encourages unnecessary litigation. The Government is also closely examining options to help councils in New South Wales. The Public Bodies Review Committee has looked extensively at the issues and reported to the Government. Unfortunately, the collapse of HIH exacerbated the situation, preventing a thorough response to the report's recommendations.
The Government has set up a task force to examine the issues surrounding the HIH collapse and public liability generally on local government. It has representatives from the Cabinet Office, Treasury and the Department of Local Government. It is time now for the Federal Government to take this issue seriously, as this Government has done. I hope that next week's summit to be convened by Assistant Treasurer Senator Helen Coonan will look seriously at what New South Wales has done and put on the table. We need a national solution to this national crisis. There should be a partnership between the Commonwealth and the States. The Premier instigated the meeting between the States and the Commonwealth. He also wrote to the Prime Minister proposing an inquiry into the issue. [Time expired.]
Ms HODGKINSON (Burrinjuck) [11.59 a.m.]: I support the motion of the honourable member for Lachlan and congratulate him on taking the initiative during the Christmas break away from this place by holding two community meetings at Cootamundra and Forbes. Those meetings were very well attended: people from throughout the State converged on Cootamundra and Forbes to put their points of view and let the authorities know how they felt about public liability insurance premiums and their effects on people. I also support the second part of the motion calling on Federal, State and local governments to launch an education program aimed at convincing people to stop suing each other and accept responsibility for themselves.
Often it is easier to understand issues by considering examples. So in this debate I will relate a little story about Tumblong, which is in my electorate and which, as mentioned by the honourable member for Lachlan, has a problem with public liability insurance. During 1989 the Tumblong community decided to form the Tumblong War Memorial and Citizens Association Incorporated to run the local hall and tennis courts. This association was formally incorporated on 27 March 1990. Small rural community organisations such as this are required by State legislation to hold public liability insurance. Since incorporation, the association has been continuously covered for public liability insurance by GIO Insurance.
For several years the association has been concerned about the increasing cost of this insurance. Premiums have risen from $228 in 1999-2000 to $280 in 2000-01 and this year to $423. Matters were brought to a head earlier this year when a decision was made to hold a Back to Tumblong reunion over this year's Easter holidays. I will be delighted to attend the event on Easter Saturday. The association is fortunate that it has a public officer who is active and cautious. He wrote to GIO asking the company to confirm that the planned event was covered by the association's insurance policy. It was not. However, GIO offered further coverage—at increased cost, of course. The association is now facing premiums of $907 this year—an almost fivefold increase over the cost of insurance just two years ago. The association will be able to meet this additional cost and the Back to Tumblong weekend will proceed. But warning bells have been rung by the letter the association received from GIO, which stated in part:
It is noted that your policy expires in November 2002. Under our present underwriting guidelines it is likely that unfortunately we will not be inviting renewal of the policy when it falls due.
The letter from GIO further stated:
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your past custom and wish you well for the future.
In the immortal words of the great author Douglas Adams, this was like saying, "So long and thanks for all the fish" or "It was nice to have you as a customer but we will not be seeing you again". What is the future facing the Tumblong War Memorial Hall and Citizens Association and many small community groups? Will the Tumblong association go the way of the Yass junior girls basketball competition, the Gundagai Sport and Recreation Club, the Goulburn to Canberra cycle race and the Bungonia market day, which are all in my electorate? I have also received representations from the Tumut Montreal Theatre, the Goulburn Rodeo Club, the Tully Park Early Birds Golf Club, the Country Women's Association—a terrific organisation—Brungle Community Hall, the Goulburn Kart Racing Club, the Talbingo Progress Association, the Windellama Progress Association, the community of Bookham and many more.
As the honourable member for Lachlan and the honourable member for Lismore have accurately pointed out, public liability insurance is squarely a State government responsibility. The organisations that I have mentioned and many other community organisations throughout rural New South Wales need swift government action. The State Government is getting $40 million per annum from stamp duty on insurance premiums. I can hear the Labor Right screaming out as I say this, but perhaps the State Government could consider eliminating this stamp duty for a year to let people get back on their feet again. To profit at the expense of community organisations is lunacy. [Time expired.]
Mr BROWN (Kiama) [12.04 p.m.]: The people of Kiama also are very concerned about public liability insurance. They will be very concerned to hear the comments by the honourable member for Burrinjuck and other Coalition members that this is a State government responsibility. It clearly is not just a State government responsibility. However, the Carr Labor Government is looking at the issue very seriously and is in fact leading the country to try to resolve the public liability crises that are affecting many community groups. The insurance industry is governed by a Federal body called APRA, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Under section 51 of the Commonwealth Constitution the Federal Parliament clearly has power to regulate the insurance industry.
If I wanted to become an insurer I would have to apply for a licence through the Federal Government. If I satisfied the required checks by the Federal Government I would be granted a Federal licence. APRA regulates the industry but two other Federal agencies are involved with insurance—the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. Those three Federal government agencies look after the insurance industry. So it is inappropriate for the Opposition to try to brand the Carr Labor Government with the responsibility of fixing up insurance. There are many things that the State can do and is looking to do—it is leading the country. However, the Federal Government should also take significant responsibility in this issue.
What has brought on this public liability crisis is the inability of the Federal Government to ensure that its regulatory agency, APRA, monitors the insurance industry. Only last year there was the devastating collapse of HIH. Not long before that collapse APRA ticked off HIH as an insurance company to continue delivering insurance to many different communities in the country. When HIH collapsed not only public liability policies but also home warranty building insurance and other insurances became ineffective, which caused a lot of grief.
Mr George: Which again is a State responsibility.
Mr BROWN: The State Government does not regulate the insurance industry. HIH was a nationally registered insurance company.
Mr George: Point of order: My point of order relates to relevance. The honourable member for Kiama stated that home warranty insurance in not a State matter: It is definitely a State matter. Home warranty insurance is not a Federal matter.
Mr ACTING-SPEAKER (Mr Lynch): Order! There is no point of order.
Mr BROWN: Once large insurers in our jurisdiction collapse they find it difficult to get reinsured by international insurance companies. Insurance companies seek reinsurance mainly from offshore companies. If the market is not big enough in jurisdictions in this country for insurance companies to be reinsured, that creates a problem. This large problem needs to be solved intelligently. It does not need the Opposition to say that the Carr Labor Government should fix the international insurance crisis that is affecting many communities in this State. But the Government is willing to talk to Helen Coonan and put the plans on the table. We all have a legitimate interest in ensuring that our community groups can continue to hold their functions by being insured.
Mr ARMSTRONG (Lachlan) [12.09 p.m.], in reply: I thank all honourable members from both sides of the House for their participation in and contribution to this most important debate. Each speaker has made significant points, but one point they all have in common is that they have acknowledged that this is major problem in our community. They have acknowledged that the problem can be rectified by governments and that unless we move expeditiously there will continue to be a fractionation of community events and the culture and economy of our suburbs and towns in New South Wales. As I said in my presentation, much of the activity has probably stemmed from the two forums I held earlier this year. I expected to get about 40 people at Cootamundra and 60 at Forbes, but almost 300 people attended those two forums.
I acknowledge the speakers who gave up their time and attended the forums at their own expense. There were representatives from the Insurance Council of Australia, the Plaintiff Lawyers Association, WorkCover, local government, the Shires Association and Business Australia, previously known as the Employers Federation, as well as Mr Ian Douglas of Clayton Insurance, a well-known underwriter from Cremorne. Their contributions were pivotal in ensuring that the forums provided a full understanding of the problems and an expression of the varying views. There was obviously a big difference between the views of the Plaintiff Lawyers Association and Business Australia, for example. There was good democratic argument, which is what we need in such discussions.
I welcome this debate today, because this matter must be debated. I welcome the Helen Coonan conference and the Federal Government taking some responsibility for what is essentially State legislation. The States are the Crown, and this legislation is Crown legislation. This State has the capacity to make a difference. If the Leader of the House had called for an adjournment of business today and put a few changes to regulations, I am sure that if they were sensible and practical—like those enunciated by the shadow Minister for Small Business—we could make a difference, probably in the next week or so.
But if we are going to play the blame game as to whether it is a Federal problem or a State problem, the victims will be those who are trying to raise money to put in a local swimming pool, those trying to raise money to keep the County Women's Association and the Red Cross going, and those who are trying to hold their annual events. They do not have time to listen to us being rhetorical. I ask the Government today to take a bipartisan approach and wave the white flag. I know that might be a utopian idea, but let us wave the white flag and deal with the smaller issues that can help the volunteer organisations. We all agree upon the threshold in principle but let us assist those volunteers who may be at some risk from litigation this week and every other week. We can then look at the bigger picture.
The honourable member for Kiama indicated that some of the problems are due to the HIH collapse and the events of September 11, and that may be so, but let us start at the beginning, help our own people first and then deal with the bigger picture down the track. This matter is urgent for various organisations ranging from horse groups to cultural organisations. An art patron holding an art show in his garden on a Saturday afternoon would have a public liability policy on his home, as many people do, but that would not cover the local art group coming into his garden. I appeal to the Government and to honourable members on both sides of the House to support my motion. We have all agreed on most points. I understand that the Government will oppose my motion. If it does that it will be damned for playing pure politics. I ask the Government to support the principle, because in doing so it will be supporting many of its own policies. I challenge the Government to support my motion in a positive step for the community.
Question—That the motion be agreed to—put.
The House divided.
|Dr Kernohan |
Mr D. L. Page
Mr J. H. Turner
Mr R. W. Turner
Mr R. H. L. Smith
Question resolved in the negative.
|Mr E. T. Page|
Mr W. D. Smith