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Public liability a costly call

INDUSTRY groups aren’t holding their breath waiting for any relief from rising public liability insurance premiums.

Small Business Minister Joe Hockey hit a nerve recently when he raised the issue of the cost of public liability insurance.

Over the past year businesses, particularly in the leisure and adventure industry, have been hit with premium hikes of up to 1,000 per cent in some cases, but the worst effect will be felt when the next wave of insurance premiums are due in June this year.

While businesses welcome the planned national forum and the Gallop Government’s inquiry into the issue, relief will come too late for many businesses.

Tourism Council WA president Manny Papadoulis said the problems were being felt around the country, so a national solution was required rather than being done at State level.

“This is not one of those issues where politicians have the luxury of being able to enter a public debate on what should be done,” Mr Papadoulis said.

“Whilst that so-called debate is going on, hundreds of jobs are being lost in WA’s fourth largest export industry as well as in other sectors.”

Banks & Cooper Countrywide Insurance Brokers partner Peter Banks said he knew of instances where businesses unable to pay the premium were faced with the choice of either closing their business or continuing to trade without insurance.

“I think you will find that there are businesses that are continuing to trade without public liability and they are going to be hit one day and they will lose their house, their assets and everything. They are taking a real punt,” Mr Banks said.

In his firing line is the ability for lawyers to advertise free consultation and no-win, no fees terms.

“They (the lawyers) are educating people how to sue,” Mr Banks said.

This point was reiterated by Australian Amusement and Leisure Recreation Association general manager Kelvin O’Reilly.

“If you get injured you get a free kick in front of goals these days, regardless of whether you dropped the banana you slipped on,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“We believe the Government should curtail no-win, no-fee advertising.”

He said that, in many situations, claims of very low merit still could be settled for substantial amounts of money.

“The costs escalate so quickly that even modest injuries can cost tens of thousands of dollars,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“It’s a diabolical impact on businesses in general. Every week that goes on there are other businesses that go under.”

Law Society WA President Clare Thompson said she saw nothing wrong with using advertising as a means of educating.

“Its really ridiculous to suggest that lawyers shouldn’t educate people of their rights,” Ms Thompson said.

“Its not helpful for organisations to say that it’s the lawyers fault.”

But while small businesses may be finding it difficult to fund the premiums, large businesses are more concerned that they could be viewed by customers and lawyers as an easy target.

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