The annual conference concentrates our minds on one of the major functions of the Association, education and information exchange.
The conference is also a time of reflection on our other major role, that of lobbying on behalf of the maimed, the orphaned and the spouse deprived – the politically weak whom the powerful, including our governments, prefer to ignore and do ignore if not abruptly reminded by organisations like ours.
Nearly all branches have been involved in major political battles over the last 12 months. The first in this period was that fought in Victoria. Although the Kennett government succeeded in abolishing workplace common law rights, it was dealt a severe blow in the Mitcham by-election where the issue, largely driven by APLA, caused the biggest by-election defeat in Australian political history.
In Queensland, APLA campaigned with its allies against the coalition in the July election. The branch’s campaign was based on two issues: the destruction of workplace injury rights and the Minister’s dishonesty on the issue. Given that the election was won in one seat by only eighty votes, APLA can credibly claim that it helped make a difference.
The branch relied on its existing good relations with unions and community groups to be able to quickly mount an effective campaign which not only brought results in terms of the election but strengthened those existing relationships. The branch must now rely on the promise of remedial legislation which hopefully the new Beattie government will make a reality without delay.
The South Australian branch has recently been fighting a battle against the introduction of a 6 month subsisting injury preclusion period as a prerequisite for any common law damages claim arising out of motor accidents.
Needless to say the adoption of the proposal would mean financial and emotional disaster for many victims of transport injury. In response the branch was able to quickly mobilise a core of committed members to commence a campaign.
As a result of the committee’s efforts, APLA was able to create an effective credible media presence and successfully lobby a number of Legislative Council members to defeat the proposals.
In Western Australia a campaign has been conducted against ruthless proposals for introduction of a more restrictive injury threshold in workplace injury claims. The current dual threshold scheme is sought to be changed so that the “easier” of the two common law gateways (greater than $100,000 total damages) is removed. This would leave only one gateway- a 30% bodily disability threshold!
The branch has had considerable success in the media and in educating upper house MPs as to the serious social ramifications of the proposed changes. It is hoped that by the time of publication, the house will have defeated the Bill entirely.
A similar campaign is now being mounted by the New South Wales branch against proposals to cap legal costs payable to plaintiffs’ lawyers in motor vehicle claims and in Victoria the battle to reclaim workplace injury rights continues and the branch is preparing for another war on the motor accident front.
These fights are invariably against highly resourced opponents adept at intimidation, dirty tricks and media manipulation. Our major weapons are truth, and the energy and dedication of our members.
Each campaign has a cost. For those involved at the battlefront, the personal financial and emotional effort is enormous, often to the point of exhaustion. Although the task is largely thankless, the combatants have the satisfaction of knowing that those for whom we speak, enjoy many rights they continue to take for granted only as a result of such efforts.
Our forthcoming conference will give each of us the opportunity to express our thanks to those who have contributed so much over the last year. It is appropriate that we honour these champions at that time.
Our conference is therefore also a time of celebration when we can through comradeship be thankful for our successes and be reminded of the enormity of our ongoing vocation.