The new president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Anthony Kerin, has made the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) the top priority for the organisation over the next 12 months.
Appointed to the role on 1 July, Kerin (pictured) replaced vocal criminal barrister Greg Barns, who will remain closely associated with ALA as the immediate past-president.
Kerin has been an ALA member for 13 years and a director for around six.
“I’m very interested and passionate about the ideals of the organisation,” he told Lawyers Weekly.
“ALA has been able to create and promote its organisation quite well over the last decade, to the extent that there are valuable contributions to be made to debates, about legislative change in particular, in all states and in all jurisdictions.”
Kerin hopes to achieve just this in the coming year, when ALA is again asked to constructively contribute and analyse the NDIS and the National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS).
“We’ve got some concerns about the NDIS in terms of how it’s going to materialise. We’re not sure the structure is all that clear yet; as recently as 28 June members were at an address to Parliament in South Australia, which was useful but I don’t know that it answered a couple of questions that we still have about the NDIS structure,” said Kerin.
Last month, the ALA claimed no-fault schemes like WorkCover were failing and needed close examination before the Government embarked on the NDIS and NIIS ahead of recommended schedule.
“The funding of appropriate disability support services does not have to come at the expense of removing the right to be compensated when physically wronged by another; and taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for injuries caused by such carelessness, particularly when insurers are raking in profits of up to 25 per cent,” he said.
The first piece of funding to pilot the proposed NDIS, at a cost of $1 billion, is expected to deliver $350 million across four years for up to 50,000 people, said Kerin; the rest would go to administrative costs.
There are around four million people with disability and 2.6 million carers in the country (ABS 2009 Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers).
“There’s a lot of work we’re doing in this area in different states,” said Kerin.
Outside the disability sector, Kerin said ALA would continue to advocate against legislation like Stronger Futures, which was passed in the early hours of the morning on June 29, the final day before Parliament's winter break.
“The first day in parliament was the day of the Gillard-Rudd vote and we remain disappointed with the rush that took place to formalise these laws. ALA is certainly of view that they haven’t had the analysis that they should have … however it may be a bit late,” said Kerin.
With around 1500 members representing up to 200,000 people each year in Australia, Kerin said the ALA is a good vehicle to engender a professional camaraderie among plaintiff lawyers.
“[Plaintiff lawyers] are a part of the profession that’s often under attack by insurers or others with vested interests and for whom [ALA] represents perhaps an annoying presence, [but they] have to be dealt with,” said Kerin.
The ALA started in 1994 as the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association, when a small group of personal injury lawyers decided to pool their knowledge and resources to secure better outcomes for victims of negligence.
“I think the organisation communicates relatively well but I think it can do better and one of the aims in the next 12 months will be to ensure the lines of communication are clear … there are a lot of members with a lot to offer,” said Kerin, who admitted he was probably the least technologically-equipped president in the history of ALA, but nonetheless vowed to look at the online forum during his term.
“I’m not big on meetings either so I don’t think the number of meetings will increase; I think the meetings that will occur will be more effective.”