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Lawyers accuse Treasurer over MAC sale

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Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis told lawyers advocating against changes to the state’s compulsory third party insurance regime that the State Government had no plan prior to the 2014 election to sell off the Motor Accident Commission, it is claimed.

However, the lawyers say that in the light of State Government documents released this week, it was clear that the Government’s “game plan” all along was to privatise the MAC.

Former Law Society president Morry Bailes, who spearheaded the legal fraternity’s opposition to Labor’s plan to reduce access to compensation for anyone who is not “catastrophically injured”, told InDaily he met with Koutsantonis last August seeking assurances about a budget plan to allow private insurers into the market.

“We had a meeting with the new Treasurer and said to him our suspicion was that the scheme was being tuned up by the reform of 2013 in order to flog MAC in the budget (but) he said that’s not the case,” Bailes revealed.

He said Koutsantonis gave him a “lecture”, using “words to the effect of “I’ll give you a lesson in Government’”.

“He said ‘what happens in one term is unrelated to what happens in the subsequent term’,” recalled Bailes.

Koutsantonis has questioned Bailes’ understanding of the conversation.

Documents released under Freedom of Information laws to The Advertiser this week, and seen by InDaily, confirm a 2013 Government “scoping study into MAC’s operations”, including “preparation of a valuation and consideration of full or partial divestment options”.

“(It seems) the game plan all along was the sale of MAC,” Bailes said.

“These documents show the Government was looking at privatisation at the same time as it was reforming the law… We suspected all along that the two were linked, but it was denied by him.

“One can only feel like there was an attempt to pull the wool over our eyes.”

Bailes said evidence of the planned sell-off left him “vindicated” in his opposition to the CTP reforms, “but also fairly annoyed at the assertions made by the Treasurer” at the August meeting.

“I remember him giving me a lecture on what Government was about, that one term of Government was separate to another, and there was a clear inference that the reform was unrelated to sale of MAC,” he said.

“It was quite plain what he was saying.”

He said the Government’s repeated assertion that it is not privatising any “essential services” may be “an argument about semantics”, given that motor registration is compulsory.

“It seemed incredible that within weeks of coming back into Government (they would decide to privatise) without any forethought whatsoever, but before the election there wasn’t anything breathed about selling MAC … so the electorate didn’t have the opportunity to pass judgement at the ballot box,” Bailes said.

“It’s simply implausible to suggest the two aren’t linked.”

In a statement, Koutsantonis told InDaily Bailes’ version of events was “incorrect”.

“His assertions demonstrate a complete misunderstanding of the process,” he said.

“The CTP reforms the Government announced in 2012 are to ensure catastrophically injured motorists are provided lifetime treatment care and support regardless of fault, they are in no way connected to the opening up of the CTP market to the private sector.

“They are completely separate policies.”

He said given the CTP reforms affected minor claims at “the lower end of the scheme”, it was “not surprising CTP lawyers are disappointed that some of their income has been redirected to those with catastrophic injuries resulting from a car crash”.

“Our CTP reforms delivered a reduction in premiums of about $140 over two years,” said Koutsantonis.

Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire will today push for parliament’s Budget and Finance Committee to investigate the planned sale and the process that led to it, arguing that the experience in New South Wales suggests premiums could rise sharply.

“Their premiums have just gone up like you wouldn’t believe (since CTP went private in 1989),” he said.

“It costs a lot more to run through a private company than the Government … so it’s hard to see how you could ever have it cheaper.”

Premier Jay Weatherill yesterday insisted any increase in premiums in Thurday’s budget followed a MAC board recommendation.

“The recommendation was there would be an increase,” he said.

“That was the recommendation that came from the MAC board and we’ll be acting on that recommendation.”

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