Motor vehicle accident victims will be denied vital support and benefits under proposed changes to the Transport Accident Act tabled in the Victorian Parliament this week.
Slater and Gordon Victorian Practice Group Leader (Motor Vehicle Accidents) Craig Lynch said the amendments delivered an unexpected and alarming blow to Victorians injured in transport accidents.
The Napthine Government changes include a re-definition of ‘psychiatric injury’ and will give the Minister responsible unfettered powers to direct doctors on how they assess medical injuries.
Mr Lynch said advocates were stunned at the Government’s attempt to drastically reduce assistance for the injured just weeks after the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) reported an operating profit of almost $1billion ($973 million) for the 2012/13 financial year.
"The TAC plans will remind Victorians of the attack on common law in the 1990s, something that, under Ted Ballieu, the Government promised not to repeat,” Mr Lynch said.
He said the legislation, if passed, will further alter the balance of the TAC scheme against people injured in transport accidents and grieving families in a number of ways, including:
- Creating an extension of powers for the Minister to issue guidelines to doctors to tell them how they must assess injuries – this assessment is to be used by the TAC to determine compensation to the injured. This power of Ministerial direction to doctors is unfettered, with no avenue for legal challenge.
- Allowing the TAC to refuse to cover the cost of medical assessments unless the TAC agrees on the doctor and the scope of the examination.
- Re-writing the definition of ‘psychiatric injury’ to allow only the most extreme cases to qualify, regardless of the impact on an individual
- Discriminating against people such as small children, stay at home parents and caregivers, people with significant disability and retirees by specifying that there must be a vocational impact to meet the new definition of ‘psychiatric injury’
- Eliminating rights for families to claim support and benefits if the TAC believes the loss of life was the fault of the deceased or caused by suicide; and
- Excluding claimants from TAC assistance if they don’t sign an authority to authorise the TAC to obtain information about them – eliminating any notion of privacy.
“In an extraordinary interpretation, the government has judged that this erosion of the right to any privacy is not a breach of the Human Rights Charter because people have the option to not receive TAC assistance,” Mr Lynch said.
“It is hard to believe that a modern government in partnership with an independent statutory monopoly insurer in sound financial shape would move to take away rights in such a far-reaching way without any consultation.
“The new definition of ‘psychiatric injury’ shows the advances that the community has made in recent years in understanding and responding to mental health issues have been lost on the government and the TAC,” Mr Lynch said.