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Transcript: Ray Hadley interview with Andrew Stone, Barrister

18-Jun-2013

TRANSCRIPT
Andrew Stone, NSW Bar Association discusses the NSW government’s Green Slip changes currently before the state upper house with Ray Hadley.


Station: 2GB radio
Date: 18/06/2013
Transcript produced by iSentia

RAY HADLEY:
Now in relation to this green slip issue in New South Wales. We’ve had some contact with the New South Wales Bar Association through their deputy executive director, Alastair McConnachie. He said: Ray I noticed that on this morning’s programme – being yesterday’s – expressed an interest in finding out more details about the Government’s motor accidents green slip changes, which are currently before the state Upper House. The legal profession has raised a number of concerns about the unfair effects on innocent victims of motor accidents, particularly children and older people.

Now, the New South Wales Bar Association are in a position to explain some of the ramifications of the state Government’s changes to green slips. The legal profession has raised a number of concerns about the effects on innocent victims. The Daily Telegraph, thankfully, is reporting today the Shooters Party is planning to block the green slip reform in the Upper House. It wants the Government to maintain legal representation for accident victims.

What it looks like to me on face value is simply a way that Greg Pearce, the Finance Minister, can put more money in the pockets of the insurance companies. Mr Andrew Stone is a practising barrister, and a member of the Common Law Committee and the New South Wales Bar Association, he’s on the line.

Mr Stone, good morning.

ANDREW STONE:
Good morning Ray.

RAY HADLEY:
I just better check, have you represented me, or have you been against me in anything?

ANDREW STONE:
Not if you haven’t been injured.

RAY HADLEY:
Beautiful. Just like to set the agenda that’s all. Someone says down the track: hang on, you know this bloke. But, we assert the agenda straight away. It’s nice of you to come on, I do appreciate it. Can you explain exactly how this reform would work, and am I right in just assuming it’s an opportunity to jam some more money in the pockets of large insurance companies?

ANDREW STONE:
Well, take this as the starting point: that for the last ten years, the insurers have been making very good money out of the green slips schemes. They’re meant to keep about 10 percent of the total premium as profit, and they’ve been keeping upwards of 20 percent. So they’ve been on a very good wicket, for a very long time.

What the Government now proposes is some very radical changes. Until now you’ve had to prove – in most instances – that [indistinct] fault, that this driver has run you down, they’re at fault, you get compensated. The drivers who cause accidents, they haven’t got any compensation. What this change is, is it moves us to a no-fault scheme, where everybody gets some money. But of course when you bring in 7000 new at-fault drivers, it means you’ve got to strip the benefits back to pay for it.

So the net result is that a load more people get something, the innocent victims get a whole lot less in order to pay for the drivers who ran them down.

RAY HADLEY:
So, let’s deal with that. Was the old system fair, where if you made a blue – an error in judgement – and caused an injury to someone else, and injury to yourself, that you were left high and dry – was that fair?

ANDREW STONE:
Well, we don’t have enough money to look after everybody properly.

RAY HADLEY:
Right.

ANDREW STONE:
You can’t pay everybody out of a car accident the full measure of damage. Therefore, we’ve got to have some mechanism for choosing. And choosing to look after the innocent victims seems to me to be pretty sensible, ahead of looking after those who cause accidents, rather than saying to the innocent victims: oh we’re going to strip away some of your benefits to pay for the people who ran you down, and who could have been more careful and avoided it.

RAY HADLEY:
When we talk about no-fault, does that mean someone who’s drunk behind the wheel, and causes an injury to themselves and a unfortunate third party, can also get compensation under this scheme?

ANDREW STONE:
The one exception is they won’t allow no-fault if you’ve committed a serious criminal offence.

RAY HADLEY:
Ok.

ANDREW STONE:
But what we’re going to see is a whole lot of argy-bargy over what’s a criminal offence – is it proven, is it not proven. And in fact it might be that your entitlement to fairly substantial compensation if you’re the at-fault driver now hinges on whether you’re convicted or not. So you’re going to see people fighting driving charges a whole lot more seriously, because they’ve now got compensation at stake as well as their liberty.

RAY HADLEY:
Who’s been lobbying the Government to change this? If we accept in the real world that the people who are not at fault should be compensated and those that cause their injuries shouldn’t, who’s been in their ear for the last couple of years saying: change it, change it?

ANDREW STONE:
That’s a very good question. I mean, obviously if you read what’s in the Telegraph there have been all sorts of meetings going on between all sorts of people. This should have been the subject of an open discussion. It wasn’t; submissions have been made; they’ve been, you know, the Bar Association and the rest of the legal profession have put up some thoughtful, well considered submissions, and we’ve never received a Government response in relation to them.

RAY HADLEY:
As someone who’s involved in the legal profession, and we do have people before the ICAC on other matters at the moment, I mean we can’t accuse anyone of doing anything wrong. But if you have the Deputy Chief of Staff of Greg Pearce being a young lady named Natalie Ward, who has met with people about this. And then you learn that her husband is the business partner of Michael Photios, a powerful Liberal power-broker, we’re not suggesting anything untoward Andrew obviously, otherwise I’d be ringing the deformation lawyers. But I mean, there is a certain- look at it and you say: this couldn’t be happening, surely. There’s got to be an arm’s-length discussion about- or if there’s not an arm’s-length everyone’s got to declare an interest.

ANDREW STONE:
You’d certainly prefer public policy making to occur where everybody doesn’t know everybody else. And that’s one of the great complaints about the Labor era, and what’s going on at the moment, is it was everybody knew everybody else.

RAY HADLEY:
Well in their case, it was only a rort if you weren’t involved.

ANDREW STONE:
[Laughs] I’m going to leave that to you and your defamation lawyers.

RAY HADLEY:
Yeah.

ANDREW STONE:
Let me just say that about his process. That apparently the Minister – so we hear – was given a variety of options to choose from, and he picked on of them. The options paper’s never been released. He’s been given costings on this new scheme that apparently saves- going to save money. We’ve got our real doubts about that. The costings haven’t been realised. This ought to be done, important public policy ought to be made, with all of the information out in the public. So one of the things we certainly call on the public to do is put all the options out there on the table and let people look at them, and release the costings.

RAY HADLEY:
The Shooters Party’s the hope for the side strangely enough at the moment. It simply wants the Government to maintain legal representation for accident victims, to make it less harsh on injured children, and most of other- is that going far enough? Or is this sort of a half-baked idea?

ANDREW STONE:
Oh no. We certainly- they’re adopting measures that we put forward to try and ameliorate the effects of the Government’s proposed changes.

RAY HADLEY:
Sure.

ANDREW STONE:
We’d still like to see the whole lot revisited, we’d like to see it referred to the Standing Committee on Law and Justice, which is an Upper House committee that’s got a fair bit of expertise in this – they review the operation of this scheme every year. They could have a useful contribution to an intelligent debate. But the Shooters are on the right track, which is there are two very important things need to be protected that the Government at the moment isn’t protecting.

The first is kids. As things stand under the current scheme, the one exception to the fault-based principle is we look after kids under the age of 16. If they’re involved in an accident, their future treatment and medical expenses are met no matter what.

RAY HADLEY:
Right.

ANDREW STONE:
And that’s important. Where it becomes particularly important, is you get a five-year-old kid who’s involved in an accident, gets some nasty scarring. They can’t treat that scarring ’til the kid becomes an adult.

RAY HADLEY:
Sure.

ANDREW STONE:
And at the moment, that child gets the money and compensation to pay for the scarring surgery when they become an adult. What the Government’s doing, is they’re going to give a five-year window for treatment expenses to be paid. And if you need any treatment after five years you’re on your own or reliant on the New South Wales public hospital system.

RAY HADLEY:
Ok. Two other questions, I don’t want to be provocative. Is the change being brought about in any way because of ambulance chasing lawyers?

ANDREW STONE:
No. Look, there are – and let me be frank about it – there’ve been some rogue lawyers who have charged too much.

RAY HADLEY:
Yes.

ANDREW STONE:
And they’ve been drummed out of the profession.

RAY HADLEY:
Right.

ANDREW STONE:
The majority of people – and I’d like to put myself in this group – they pride in helping injured people try and put their lives back together, by getting them some compensation to help them rebuild.

RAY HADLEY:
I’ll tell you the thing that makes me most suspicious Andrew, that normally every large insurance company in this land has a PR company working for them. If they’re not happy about anything I get inundated with emails from those PR companies, offering Ook McGlook (*) for a interview, and Bill Smith, and Bob Brown and all the rest of it. I haven’t had one email, which would make me think that the current systems suggest the insurance companies are absolutely delighted with it, which makes me even more worried.

ANDREW STONE:
You and I share a very similar suspicion which is if they’re not complaining, they must be happy.

RAY HADLEY:
Yeah exactly.

ANDREW STONE:
And happy insurance companies is generally not good for either the injured, or the scheme.

RAY HADLEY:
No. Exactly. look we all understand they’ve got to make money, but given from what you’ve told me they’ve made 20 percent off the top not 10 percent for a number of years now, and they’re-, you know, they want to increase that, I just don’t understand it. And I do think that, you know, for the sake of everyone involved, for the clarity involved, the Premier should be forced to release all the documentation so there can be a broader discussion about, and we move on. Particularly after what the Daily Telegraph has served up over the past three or four days in relation to all of this. I mean, it can’t just be good, it has to look to be good as well.

ANDREW STONE:
Good publicly policy sees everybody well informed and looking at the important materials to make the important decisions.

RAY HADLEY:
I really appreciate the fact you’ve come on the programme, thank you.

ANDREW STONE:
Thank you Ray.

RAY HADLEY:
Andrew Stone, the member of the Common Law Committee of the New South Wales Bar Association, and a practising barrister. Made a lot of commonsense there. This is affecting all the residents of New South Wales, and I don’t know why the Premier seems intent on going down this path. Surely, the Premier – who’s a decent and fair man – would be worried about the inference drawn from Andrew Clennell’s column today in the Daily Telegraph. And we’re not suggesting anyone has acted anyway illegally, immorally or in any other aspect. What we’re suggesting is, that when things of this nature – public policy – are before us, we need to know all the issues.

Now, the story by Andrew Clennell – and I’m sure he’s not insinuating any thing other than best practices – but this is brought to our attention via a former NRMA director whom I’ve had dealings with before, Richard Talbot. He says he met the embattled Finance Minister Greg Pearce’s Deputy Chief of Staff Natalie Ward about green slip policy, and was subsequently dismayed to learn her husband, the business partner of Liberal power-broker Michael Photios, David Begg, was lobbying for the insurance companies. The Daily Telegraph revealed yesterday Mr Pearce’s office was lobbied by Mr Photios’ lobbying firm, Premier [indistinct] Mr Begg on behalf of insurance companies to get on with the green slip reform. It’s set to reap insurance firms hundreds of millions of dollars.

Mr Pearce’s office maintains Ms Ward has nothing to do with green slip policy. The former NRMA director Richard Talbot said he had a meeting with Ms Ward in September of 2011, where she told him the proposed reform was all about getting prices down, and never mentioned it was being drawn up in consultation with insurance firms who are represented by her husband.

Now, no one is suggesting that anyone did anything other than what they were required to do at law. You can’t- I mean, this is Labor Party stuff revisited. And I’m not suggesting they’re [indistinct] investigations by the ICAC as the Labor Party is at the moment, through the deeds of quite a number of people. But surely the goodness, and incoming Premier like Barry O’Farrell – who’s a clean skin, who’s an honest and decent man – doesn’t want the sort of stench attached to his party, that is attached after 16 years of Labor.