I rise to speak on the Wrongs Amendment (Asbestos Related Claims) Bill 2014. I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this very important piece of legislation. As the previous speaker mentioned, this is a particularly important issue to me and has been for a very long time, including when I worked for the vehicle division of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and we fought the campaign to eradicate asbestos from brake pads in vehicles. Unfortunately I have also been, over a long time, familiar with many workers who have been affected by asbestos, and many of those people have now departed. I will speak about someone in particular a bit later in my contribution.
This bill gives effect to the Andrews government’s pre-election commitment to move quickly to alleviate an impediment to justice for Victorians who have asbestos-related diseases and are terminally ill. I acknowledge the coalition’s support for this bill. It is my understanding that the previous government intended passing this legislation, and I am happy to acknowledge the work that those opposite did in this area when they were in government.
As it stands, the Wrongs Act 1958 limits claims for damages for pain and suffering to claimants who can demonstrate through a several-step process that they have suffered a significant injury. The several-step process involves the claimant obtaining a certificate of assessment from an approved medical practitioner. The claimant must then serve the certificate on the defendant. If the defendant then disputes the level of injury, the defendant can refer the matter to Medical Panels Victoria to make its determination. Whilst this process is important in most cases to determine those who should be awarded damages for pain and suffering, clearly this is a very time-consuming and arduous process for those suffering from a terminal illness such as an asbestos-related condition.
The bill before us this afternoon amends the Wrongs Act 1958 to clarify that all asbestos-related claims, including those that pre-date the regulations, are exempt from the significant injury assessment process, except where a judgement has been delivered or a final settlement agreed to prior to the commencement of the bill. For people suffering from asbestos-related conditions such as asbestosis, asbestosis-induced carcinoma, asbestos-related pleural diseases and mesothelioma, it is self-evident that the conditions they are suffering from are significant. Therefore it is simply not appropriate for sufferers of these conditions, which in most cases are fatal, to be forced to go through a significant injury process. It is a long process and one that takes up valuable time that sufferers of these conditions, and their families, simply do not have.
This legislation will act retroactively so that any claims that were already on foot before the legislation commenced are also exempt from demonstrating significant injury, except in the case I mentioned earlier where a judgement has been delivered or a final settlement agreed to prior to the commencement of this bill.
Finally, I acknowledge those who are currently suffering from asbestos-related conditions and their families. In particular I pay tribute to Arthur Irving, who is struggling with his insidious disease at this time. He is a family friend in our local community, and he is supported by his wonderful wife, Lynne, in what is a real struggle which is quite gruelling at times. I pay tribute to all people who are living through this very difficult situation. Arthur and Lynne have given me a particular insight into what it is like to live through this disease, and how it completely consumes your family life, your social life and everything about you and around you, 24/7. Today is Arthur’s birthday, and we are really pleased that that is the case. Many of us will be joining him at the Ocean Grove Bowling Club this weekend. It will be a very special celebration.
I hope this legislation will assist claimants and their families to access as quickly as possible compensation that they are rightly entitled to. As I said, these people do not have the time, energy or emotional sustenance to battle a court procedure on top of what they are dealing with at home. This is a very important bill that we have before us this afternoon. I understand that there are no amendments and that it will be supported by all members. I definitely commend this bill to the house.