In an unprecedented move, South Australia’s lawyers are actively entering the state election campaign and will target some of Labor’s most vulnerable seats.
A joint campaign by the Law Society, the Australian Lawyers Alliance and the SA Bar Association will see 100,000 anti-Government flyers hitting letterboxes in key seats including Elder, Light, Bright, Hartley and the Liberal-held seat of Adelaide.
The lawyers warn the flyer – headed “Don’t risk becoming a victim at the hands of the State Government” – could be used to target more seats ahead of the March 15 election.
The mail-out is part of the lawyers’ campaign against the State Government’s changes to Compulsory Third Party insurance which will provide lifetime care to everyone catastrophically injured regardless of who was at fault.
The lawyers argue, however, that every other injured party will be worse off.
The Government, which was able to give motorists a $100 discount on vehicle registration as a result of the changes, argues the new scheme is fair and provides help for the first time to victims of accidents where no-one is to blame, while reducing costs for taxpayers.
The lawyers argue it is an attack on victims’ rights to fair and reasonable compensation.
They are also trying to flush out the Liberals on the issue.
So far, the Opposition has only promised a review of the CTP scheme in the first year of a Liberal Government but the lawyers want the Liberals to scrap the changes.
Law Society President Morry Bailes said it was an unprecedented campaign, but it had been sparked by lawyers’ growing concerns about the impact of the new CTP scheme.
“The legal profession has never engaged in a campaign of this magnitude before,” Bailes told InDaily.
He said lawyers had never argued against the concept of no-fault cover for catastrophically injured people, but it had become clear that every other road crash victim would suffer.
“Everyone else is worse off, and in some cases drastically worse off,” he said.
The new scheme creates a threshold below which an injured person cannot be compensated for income loss. For those who meet the threshold, there is an automatic 20 per cent reduction.
In addition, Bailes said the Government’s own figures showed that 70-75 per cent of road accident victims won’t have access to compensation for non-economic loss – which means they will get nothing for pain and suffering.
Health minister Jack Snelling said he had no concerns about the lawyers’ campaign. He argued it would only draw attention to changes which saved ordinary people money on their registration costs while still looking after the injured.
“I welcome it,” he said.
He accused the lawyers of looking after their own “business model”, under which Snelling said they made thousands of dollars from injury claims, including big lump sum payments to seriously injured people.
“I’m sorry of the lawyers’ union doesn’t like it, but I’m quite proud of these reforms,” he said.
Bailes rejected the argument that lawyers were acting out of self-interest.
“The truth is we are genuinely concerned about our clients and victims’ rights,” he said.
Snelling rejected claims that people with less than catastrophic injuries would lose protection under the new scheme. Those who suffered injuries “towards the minor end” would always be compensated for time off work and have their medical expenses met – they would only lose the capacity for gaining large pay-outs for pain and suffering, Snelling argued.
Shadow Attorney-General Stephen Wade has promised that a Liberal Government would review the scheme in its first year.
Today he emphasised that any review would be constrained from making changes which would drive up motor registration costs.
He told InDaily the review would consider a broad range of issues including removal of the threshold, compensation for non-economic loss on a similar basis to the Queensland scheme, and removal of the discount on economic loss.
However, the review would be “predicated on three principles”: maintaining financial sustainability of the scheme, no change in entitlements under the lifetime support scheme, and no increase in motor registration charges as a result of the review.
Snelling said changes to the scheme under the Liberal proposal would inevitably drive up costs.
“All of those things they propose would result in increased car rego costs for ordinary South Australian motorists,” he said.
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