Motor Accidents Injuries Bill 2017

Photo of arm in a sling
29 March 2017

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 10:50 :17 ): I speak in support of the Motor Accident Injuries Bill 2017. The words of the member for Swansea would have greater credence if the greatest ever attack on common law rights in this State had not come from the Labor bill of 1999 regarding this matter. It is regrettable that Labor members do not have a greater knowledge of the subject matter and its history when they speak in this House. I am pleased to support the Motor Accident Injuries Bill 2017, and I compliment the Minister for Finance, Services and Property, who is in the Chamber, for another substantial piece of reform in the ministries he commands. A 150-page bill is a substantial body of work in anybody's terminology, and he is to be applauded for again introducing well thought out and deeply important legislation into this House.

The Motor Accident Injuries Bill 2017 introduces a new compulsory third party [CTP] insurance scheme for people who are injured or lose their life as a result of a motor vehicle accident on our roads in New South Wales. It represents a major reform by this Government that will provide meaningful and measurable benefits for injured people as well as millions of vehicle owners across New South Wales. As members would be aware, the current CTP green slip insurance scheme no longer serves the best interests of people injured in motor vehicle accidents or of vehicle owners in our State. The bill follows a comprehensive review of the CTP scheme undertaken in 2016 involving extensive community and stakeholder consultation. The CTP insurance scheme affects us all, as vehicle owners and as members who care about improving the lives of injured people on our roads.

As members, we should support this bill, to ensure that people genuinely injured in road accidents receive timely access to the appropriate treatment and rehabilitation to assist their recovery. Without reform, green slip prices will continue to increase. Through this bill the Minister has targeted reform that is evidence based. The evidence provided by the State Insurance Regulatory Authority [SIRA] identified some of the important areas that drove higher CTP premiums. It did that by analysing data. It is important to have evidence-based decision-making by government. In particular, the evidence identified that the drivers of the currently unacceptably high CTP insurance premiums include a blowout in the number of soft tissue injury claims and issues around insurance profits.

Contrary to what the member for Swansea said, when Labor brought in the reforms in 1999 there were no provisions to take into account the possibility of the insurance industry making supernormal profits. One of the important reforms under this bill is the requirement for data to be produced to SIRA by insurance companies so that their profitability can be identified. There is the capacity after the event to take back any supernormal profits to ensure that any excessive profit-taking is returned to the consumer—the residents of New South Wales. These are very important matters.

One of the other matters identified by SIRA is the issue of fraud and its effect on higher insurance premiums. Before I go to matters of fraud, I note that this bill takes into account soft tissue injuries and treats them differently. It is an important reform to be enacted. On the issue of fraud SIRA estimates that the additional cost to New South Wales motorists of fraudulent and exaggerated claims is as much as $400 million per year. Fraud currently adds about $75 to the cost of each green slip alone. The scheme actuaries report that if the rising trend in claims costs goes unchecked, there will be significant impacts to scheme affordability, with predicted price increases of 10 per cent to 20 per cent per year over the next 18 months above the current premium rates. This would equate to an average increase for passenger vehicle green slips in Sydney of between $65 and $130 per annum.

Legally represented minor injury claims average between $95,000 and $110,000 each, which is more than the average claim size for all claims covering minor and major injuries in any other jurisdiction in Australia. As a result, around $213 of every green slip premium is now going towards these claims, up from $96 in 2008—an increase of 121 per cent. It is not fair that New South Wales motorists are paying the highest premiums in the country. I again commend the Minister for doing something about these terrible figures. The increasing number of legally represented minor injury claims has also led to higher claims-handling expenses by CTP licensed insurers.

Reforms to the CTP scheme will put substantial downward pressure on premiums and reduce opportunities for fraudulent and exaggerated claims by providing defined benefits for soft tissue and minor psychological injuries for up to six months and removing access to the common law system for these cases. Section 117 of the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999 does not expressly confer the power to prosecute on any person. Historically, SIRA has relied on CTP insurers to conduct fraud control. It is anticipated that the proposed reforms to the CTP scheme will further address claims fraud by enhancing SIRA's investigative, prosecution and enforcement powers.

The bill will give the regulator stronger powers to investigate fraud as well as for prosecution and enforcement, and penalties will be increased. There will be no rewards for people abusing the system put in place by this bill. In accordance with SIRA's statutory obligation to deter fraud within the CTP scheme, a strategy has been developed to investigate and address fraud and claims leakage. The strategy focuses on both initiatives to curtail or remove systemic incentives to engage in fraudulent behaviour, as well as measures addressing the problem at the source. A CTP fraud taskforce has been established, as well as a fraud hotline which allows members of the public to report suspected instances of fraud.

The program of work being undertaken includes direct engagement with insurers and other regulators as well as targeted communications; ongoing regulatory responses; data monitoring, including predictive modelling, to detect the lodgement of fraudulent claims in the scheme; and the commissioning of full-time resources. Following rigorous consultations, this bill is strongly supported by all key stakeholder groups, including the Law Society of NSW, the NSW Bar Association, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, the Insurance Council of Australia and the NSW Taxi Council. The bill is also strongly supported by the people of this great State.

This Government has listened to all key stakeholders and has their support to deliver long overdue reforms for not only people injured on our roads but also vehicle owners in New South Wales, who for too long have paid increasingly expensive green slip premiums. This bill is a much better reform of the motor accidents claim scheme than the reforms introduced by the Australian Labor Party in 1999. It respects and does not unreasonably further infringe upon common law rights. This is the sort of intelligent, focused legislation that only a Coalition Government is capable of delivering.

I congratulate the Minister on being able to satisfy the key stakeholders in this area whilst also producing a bill that promotes so well the public interests of the citizens of this State. Good work should be appreciated. The member for Swansea referred to a number of things which saddened me. In this instance partisan politics should be put to one side. Members should resist from taking opposing sides or nitpicking just for the sake of it, nor should those opposite always foreshadow that amendments will be moved in the other place. They should be thanking the Minister for his hard work and they should stop carping and complaining.