The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has lashed out at former NSW premier Bob Carr praising John Della Bosca's role in the NSW Government, claiming Della Bosca's changes to personal injury laws were not the success Carr suggests.
The ALA took exception to Carr's opinion piece published in Wednesday's Sydney Morning Herald, in which he claimed the former health minister's changes to personal injury laws were a triumph of success.
In the piece titled, "As you give Della a kick, remember his successes," Carr wrote that through Della Bosca's policy-making, the NSW Government, for the first time, had resisted the power of the plaintive law lobby.
"In fact, this tort law reform was the best microeconomic reform out of any state government in a decade," wrote Carr. "It cut the cost of doing business and fed directly into productivity improvement, not at the expense of workers but at the expense of the plaintiff lawyers who had fed on a culture of rorts and rip-offs."
In response, ALA NSW president Jnana Gumbert said: "He (Carr) hails the introduction of legislation restricting the right of injured people to recover compensation as a success. It certainly has been a success for the insurance business, which has made record profits since the introduction of the new schemes. In fairness, it must be acknowledged that there are some aspects of the changes that have been positive for injured people."
The ALA claims, however, that Della Bosca's tort reforms have resulted in injured people with legitimate personal injury claims being unable to pursue their case in court.
"They will never receive damages that they could once have recovered. They needed those damages to pay their medical bills and to feed their families. While these victims are suffering, national and multi-national insurance giants are making huge profits."
Della Bosca drafted the initial proposal to establish a judicial inquiry to force James Hardie to give evidence and, claims Carr, consequently through the legal process forced James Hardie to accept its responsibility for asbestos victims.
But Gumbert said that while the pressure the NSW Government placed on James Hardie and the introduction of the Lifetime Care and Support Scheme were admirable achievements, the sad fact was that most accident victims are now worse off - especially people who are injured in work accidents.
"Why should a worker who loses a limb due to a defective machine, or who suffers paraplegia after falling from negligently constructed scaffolding, not be entitled to the same benefits as a person who suffers those same injuries in a road accident or in a public place?"
Meanwhile, claims Gumbert, insurers are winning from the reforms, and have made more than $1 billion in extra profits over the last five years of operation of the motor accidents regime slated by Della Bosca in 1999.
"As far back as 5 June 2005, the Australian Lawyers Alliance presented evidence before a NSW Upper House Committee showing the unfairness of NSW personal injury laws. The evidence was persuasive and the Committee concluded that the 'reforms' had gone too far."
Gumbert said it was the view of the ALA that the Australian public has been misled by a campaign of scare-mongering and half-truths. "As such, [the ALA] has been working hard to remove confusion and unfairness behind the laws and advocating adopting a common law basis for industrial, motor accident and other common law claims."
- Angela Priestley