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ACT injury scheme reform splits industry, lawyers

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Suncorp and IAG have welcomed the ACT’s shift to a no-fault compulsory third party (CTP) scheme, but lawyers say reforms introduced in the Legislative Assembly mainly benefit insurers.

The model chosen by a citizens’ jury has been controversial, with the chairman of a parliamentary committee last year calling for the draft bill to be scrapped, while others proposed amendments.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr says the bill tabled last week has been updated to address concerns and implementation issues, paving the way for a scheme that lets about 600 more people a year receive support than under current arrangements.

Suncorp EGM Personal Injury Insurance Chris McHugh says the company supports CTP reform that provides no-fault cover through defined benefits, and that focusing on recovery provides better health outcomes and is aligned to community expectations.

“Not only will this reform reduce premiums, it will also provide comprehensive cover to everyone injured on the road, which is what CTP insurance should do,” he told insuranceNEWS.com.au.

“Having played an active role throughout the citizens’ jury process, it is pleasing to see the jury’s preferred model being introduced.”

IAG says the scheme will benefit customers and the community by ensuring anyone injured on the road receives early treatment and rehabilitation, plus income replacement, regardless of fault.

Injured people will be entitled to up to five years of medical care and lost wages, as long as they were not breaking the law at the time of the accident, while those with a whole-person impairment of 10% or more will retain the right to pursue damages through the legal system.

Decisions by insurers about defined-benefit issues will be externally reviewable by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT).

The ACT Bar Association, ACT Law Society and the ACT Director of the Australian Lawyers Alliance say the legislation will slash benefits and rights that residents currently have for “a measly $14 annual reduction” in their premiums.

“The amended bill, like the original, provides no tangible benefits to the community and simply promotes the interests of large insurance companies,” they say in a joint statement.

The lawyers are also critical of the cost of establishing the scheme, including a new division within ACAT.

“On top of this, while struggling with an injury, Canberrans will be expected to try to take on the big insurance companies alone, without legal assistance,” they say.

A Government spokeswoman says people can still be legally represented in pursuing CTP matters if they choose, but they will not have to be represented to gain access to treatment and lost income payments “as is too often the case” at present.

ACT Legislative Assembly sittings will resume next week.