Lawyers' largesse in insurance debate
Three of Canberra's biggest personal injury lawyers spent almost $50,000 last year on donations to political parties that were opposed to the ACT government's reforms to motor registration legislation.
Electoral disclosure documents published on Elections ACT show that Craig Edwards, a partner at Maliganis Edwards Johnson, donated $10,000 to the Australian Motorist Party. Mark Blumer, husband and business partner of ACT Law Society president Noor Blumer, donated $9000 to the motorists' campaign.
Mr Edwards also gave $7500 to the Canberra Liberals and his colleague, John Little, made a $10,000 donation in October to the ACT Greens.
In December, The Canberra Times reported that Mr Blumer had donated $10,000 to the Canberra Liberals and the ACT Greens soon before the October 20 election.
Both parties prevented big changes to the territory's insurance regime in the final sitting week of the year, last August, after a $131,000 campaign by the law society against the reforms.
On Monday, Mr Edwards and Mr Little said they had ''supported the parties who would support accident victims''.
Mr Little, who is a member of the ACT Greens, said the laws the government had tried to pass would remove the rights of many car accident victims to compensation for their injuries.
''The ACT is the last place where people can access good money for pain and suffering,'' he said.
''The laws that have been passed in NSW, Queensland and Victoria have completely done away with almost everyone's rights.
''We supported the Liberals and the Greens, who both expressed extreme disquiet about what the ALP was doing at the eleventh hour.''
Mr Edwards said that ''quality'' political debate about the legislation had been reduced to attacks on Canberra lawyers opposing the reforms.
''The easiest one-liner is 'lawyers make millions and if we lawyer bash we'll get our legislation through','' he said.
''I have done this [personal injury law] for a long time. I enjoy it and I feel that most of the time I'm doing somebody some good,'' Mr Edwards said. ''When I see these attacks on victims of accidents I get annoyed.
''We supported the parties that were at least going to look at the insurance companies properly and analytically, without some sort of ideological design to do away with people's rights.''
In August, Treasurer Andrew Barr said amendments by the Liberals and Greens to the motor registration legislation had ''gutted'' ACT Labor's proposed reforms.
Mr Barr said the bill passed by the Legislative Assembly before the election achieved none of the government's aims, except to close a legal loophole that had monopoly insurer NRMA threatening to apply for a $45 increase in annual premiums in addition to a $52 increase approved in July.
The Treasurer said there had been ''no genuine progress'' towards a regime that would attract competition into the market and put downward pressure on compulsory third-party insurance premiums, the major component of motor registration bills.