The head of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) told Lawyers Weekly that he plans to hold the Federal Government to account over the coming year.
ALA president Andrew Stone (pictured) is concerned by the looming no-fault National Injury Insurance Scheme (NIIS), new laws intruding upon individuals’ rights and continued inaction regarding the 2009 Montara Oil Spill that is claimed to have devastated Indonesian coastal villages.
Lawyers Weekly spoke to Stone in the lead up to the ALA National Conference, which will be hosted in Sydney next week (23-25 October).
Around 150 members and non-members will head to Coogee Beach for the event.
Speakers at the conference will deal with a range of issues including: changes to personal injury insurance and workers’ compensation schemes, treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, and the right to privacy.
“We certainly enjoy the opportunity to get people together from all around the country and talk about their different experiences in trying to represent the injured,” said Stone.
“As a group we will be looking at where personal injury law is going to go over the next decade.”
No fault means no benefit
The ALA has been in a “pretty intensive dialogue” with government regarding the no-fault NIIS and the conference represents an opportunity for the ALA to report back to its members about its lobbying efforts, said Stone.
“Administrators like some aspects of no-fault schemes because once you remove fault, you remove argument, and once you remove argument, you remove lawyers and [the administrators would] like to get rid of lawyers.
“Getting rid of lawyers invariably makes schemes cheaper and, therefore, [the government] can bring premiums down. But it also means people will rarely get good value out of them,” he added.
Schemes that offer support for the injured on a no-fault basis are great in theory, but in practice they fail to deliver, Stone warned.
No-fault insurance schemes generally forfeit the injured parties’ right to fight in court for generous lump sum payments.
“The reality is you can’t have a no-fault scheme and properly compensate – something’s got to give,” said Stone.
At the conference, Hamish Peart, a partner at Schmidt & Peart Law, will speak about the disastrous no-fault scheme implemented in New Zealand in his talk: Promises and Perils of A No Fault Scheme: Lessons from NZ .
Stone said the ALA was equally concerned about the proposed changes to the Comcare workers compensation scheme.
“The Commonwealth government is at the moment on a two-part program to dramatically reduce the work injury benefits to Commonwealth workers,” he said.
The ALA has identified a number of threats to individuals’ rights and freedoms, which it plans to battle in the coming year.
It has taken a strong stance against the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment ‘Foreign Fighters’ Bill, which the ALA argues will reduce judicial supervision of police activities.
Attorney-General George Brandis’ efforts to force internet service providers to store customer metadata is also a major concern for the ALA.
“[Our] position is that people are entitled to the right of privacy.
“Government intrusion into our lives should be subject to judicial oversight. The idea of retrospective warrants – the idea of secret warrants – is anathema to the system of justice as we know it,” said Stone.
Stopping the “race to the bottom” in the treatment of asylum seekers is also a priority for the ALA in the coming year.
“It seems the way in which we prevent the deaths at sea is by being inhumanely cruel to anybody who makes it over the sea,” said Stone
“That’s a dreadful policy.”
He urged the Australian government to grant proper human rights to asylum seekers and refugees in accordance with its international treaty obligations.
“[The ALA] favour[s] treating people as human beings,” he said, simply.
The government has also consistently ignored the ALA’s calls to commit to an independent investigation into the effects of the Montara Oil Spill.
“Would I like to see [the investigation] happen? Yes. There’s an awful lot of reasons the government has continued to ignore this issue … and I anticipate that will continue to be their approach. We will be trying very hard to change it,” said Stone.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance National Conference will be held in Sydney from 23-25 October. Click here to register.