Transport Accident Amendment Bill 2013

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is my bittersweet duty this afternoon to rise to contribute to the debate on the Transport Accident Amendment Bill 2013. What a shocking piece of legislation this is, what an awful shock it will be for those people who have experienced a mental illness, loved someone who suffers from a mental illness or are in an institution or community setting every day witnessing the trauma of mental illness. This is a shocking piece of legislation. It is not common sense. It takes away people’s rights. There is nothing common sense in this bill.

This bill is an assault on some of the most disadvantaged and, sadly, in some cases, traumatised people in our society. It is a bill that says, in flashing lights for everyone to see — and I hope they do — that this government just does not care. It is a miserable, mean, nasty and cruel government, and the bill before us today is a perfect illustration of
that.

This bill is important for my community because the city of Casey has the unfortunate distinction of being at the top of the league tables for road accidents. In the Cranbourne Leader last year there was an article under a big headline ‘Casey drivers top the state for accident injuries’ that reported that serious injuries had gone up 6 per cent in the
last year. Alarmingly the 21 to 25-year-old group had a 16 per cent increase and the 60 to 69-year-old group a 14 per cent increase. The latest figures available from VicRoads show that there were 540 casualty accidents including 5 fatalities in the city of Casey.

With regret I report that the worst accident site in the city of Casey is right outside my electorate office, where there have been 23 accidents in the last 12 months. Every second week I sit listening to the whirling sounds of ambulances, police and fire authorities outside my office dealing with people who have suffered very serious injuries.

This bill will make it much more difficult for the people I represent in this house to heal themselves and get on with their lives. The government has just made it a lot harder for accident victims and their families.

The members for Williamstown and Brunswick both spoke knowledgeably and eloquently about the impact this bill will have on emergency services personnel, so I will not go there again. Instead I will concentrate on how this draconian legislation will impact on ordinary people.

Currently the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) scheme allows for family members to claim compensation for mental injury or nervous shock, but under these changes a family member can only claim to have suffered from the death of their closest relatives if they can prove they were unable to work for three years after the accident occurred.

The new test — one that was not subject to consultation with the Australian Medical Association; the government did not even consult with the association, which is one of its friendliest allies, or indeed other experts — proposes to change the definition of ‘serious injury’ to limit access to compensation for claimants who suffer severe long-term mental or behavioural disturbances or disorders.

The government has just made much harder what is already a very difficult situation for people suffering ¬†from road trauma and its consequences. It is a hard test that will effectively exclude most people from claiming common-law rights. The government is cutting people’s rights.

How does it feel for a Liberal coalition government to be taking away people’s rights? For me it is like a return to the Kennett years. I feel as though the whole thing is just coming back. It is the deja vu of those times, and the term ‘for a continuous period of at least three years’ does not even take into account the fact that mental illness by its very nature is episodic. If you had spoken to anybody who had had a road accident and come into your electorate office and spoken to you about the trauma they were going through —

Ms GRALEY— If people in this house have spoken to people in their electorates and listened to the difficulties that many of them encounter when making a¬†Transport Accident Commission (TAC) claim, they will know that this test is completely onerous and it is going to make their lives much more miserable and harder to get on with repairing their life. If anybody in this house has had any experience in dealing with a person with mental illness, they will know that mental illness is episodic. In many cases, people do not know when it is going to return. They do not know that the trauma is totally unpredictable, yet for some reason this government thinks there should be time limits to which people should have to sign up.

I know that the Medico-legal Group of Psychiatrists is very concerned about this. The government may not have consulted with many people, but you would think at least you would go down and have a talk to the Medico-legal Group of Psychiatrists because they are experts in their field.

In a letter that I have here in relation to clause 27 of the bill, the group has said:

As psychiatrists in clinical practice — these are the people who every day are talking to people that have been road accident victims — dealing on a day-to-day basis with our patients and regularly assessing individuals who have developed a mental illness or disorder as a result of a transport accident, we are concerned about the practical ramifications of aspects of this clause.

Within the clause, reference is made to a person displaying symptoms and consequent disability that have not responded, or have substantially failed to respond, to known effective clinical treatments provided by a registered mental health professional.

Our concern in relation to the wording of this aspect of the clause relates to that large number of individuals who for a multiplicity of reasons are unable to or reluctant to seek appropriate mental health treatment.

In other words there are some people who are left out. They do not know they are even suffering and in need of mental health treatment until very late in the course of things, and then they have to find it. It is very nice for members opposite to say, ‘Hey, we’re giving you a little bit of extra money for counselling’. We should all thank them for that, but the fact is that is not what people need.

In the time I have left I would like to draw attention to a TAC case concerning a man by the name of Ken, whose son was killed on the Monash Freeway. Residents of the city of Casey use the freeway every day. Ken’s son, Richard, was knocked down by a truck and killed. Richard was 27 years old at the time, and Ken learnt of his son’s death when the police knocked on his door. Under this bill Ken’s common-law claim could not be successful because Ken did not witness the transport accident and the TAC could argue that Ken’s son’s negligence was a predominant cause.

In addition — get this — Ken had some days within three years after the accident where he was able to function in social and vocational settings. Let us hope he could! As such his impairment was not continuous. I would like to ask the question: what has Ken done not to receive the help of the TAC? The TAC should be there to care for and support him. We all drive down the Monash Freeway and see that advertisement showing someone knocking on the door of people in that situation. How would you feel as a parent if that happened?

I have to confess that is one of my worst nightmares — that is, a police officer coming to my door and doing that.

I represent an electorate whose constituents know the pain and suffering that is caused by far too many accidents. Far too many young people are losing their lives. The minister says he is going to save $30 million to $35 million with this bill. It is a sad day when this government no longer supports those people who are hardest hit with mental illness in our community — the very people who need our support. Labor believes this bill is littered with errors and unintended consequences, and Labor does not support this bill.