Canberra Third-Party Insurance Jury ‘Corrupted and Misleading’, Participant Says

A juror on the ACT Government’s first citizens’ jury walked out on the final day, angry at what he calls a “grossly corrupted” and “misleading” process.

Luke Hitch sat on the jury since it began examining compulsory third-party insurance in October, and was satisfied with the process until he felt the group was blindsided last minute with key information used in the presented options.

Mr Hitch raised his concerns on the final weekend, alleging an injury calculation tool known as whole person impairment (WPI) — a key factor in the chosen model — had been glossed over and not thoroughly explained.

“We were blindsided, it was just in there,” he said.

“WPI has been around for 20 years or more … they could have got that information to us in October.

“In any criminal jury situation this would be binned based on the fact that the jury had been misled.”

The ACT Government set up the citizens’ jury to determine what measures it should take to decrease Canberra’s high third-party insurance costs, and is committed to pursuing whatever option the jury choose.

The ABC can reveal of the 49 jurors who participated in the first weekend last October, 32 voted for the chosen model — 65 per cent of all jurors.

Of the initial cohort, nine did not make it to the final weekend mainly due to personal reasons, while Mr Hitch walked out and seven jurors voted for an alternative option.

Several pieces of butcher paper with ideas written on them.

The jury opted for the most radical change to the current system of the four options presented, which would introduce a five-year scheme that covers everyone regardless of fault.

After the five years, payments for medical treatment, income replacement, and loss of quality of life would be limited to people who reached a 10 per cent WPI threshold.

It could reduce premiums on the 285,000 cars registered in the ACT by an average of $130.

‘Grossly corrupted’

Mr Hitch said the jury was given a 30-minute briefing session on WPI and another scale called ISV on the final Saturday, not long before a vote that ruled out two of the four models.

“Until the jury actually arced up and said they wanted more information [the organisers] were quite happy for us to just roll on and make these decisions in this vacuum really,” he said.

The jury was then asked whether they wanted to investigate the methods further but declined.

“At that point I said I think it’s been grossly corrupted … it’s broken and I walked away,” Mr Hitch said.

“In the first instance they were uninformed and then once they wanted information they were quite clearly misled.

“They really did portray (WPI) as quite benevolent, a simple, great process.”

Another juror told the ABC while they believed in deliberative democracy and did not think the chosen model was “totally flawed”, they saw weaknesses in the process.

They raised concerns the jury was not presented information about “edge cases” like those people whose injury falls just below the 10 per cent threshold.

The juror also said a calculation on the reduction of total compensation in the ACT — which was found to be about $16 million — was not presented to the group until it was specifically requested on the last weekend.

They described earlier information about WPI as “vague” and said a technical explanation was provided on the last weekend without time set aside to discuss it.

Mr Hitch, who is married to a family lawyer, said it was conversations outside of the jury process with friends involved in the ACT’s workers’ compensation scheme that raised red flags.

“They worked on both sides, insurers and claimants, and none of them had a good story to tell about it,” he said.

“That was when the alarm bells rang for me.”

Four jurors also wrote a minority report, disagreeing with the model voted for by the jury and raising concerns that the group “was not given enough time to make an informed decision”.

Jury had ‘remarkable ability’

But scheme designer, Finity Consulting principal Geoff Atkins, said he believed the group had a good understanding of WPI before the vote.

“The jurors demonstrated a remarkable ability in my view to get their heads around some pretty complicated and arcane material,” he said.

Registration forms and name tags.

“The collective mind, as I could observe, understood the principles pretty well.”

Mr Atkins, who also helped guide the jurors through the process, denied information on WPI was withheld from the group in the first sessions.

However, he said due to the technical difficulty of the measure, material was “phased in” so that it came at a “logical time”.

The first weekends were spent by the jury outlining key objectives for schemes to be modelled against.

DemocracyCo, which ran the process for the Government, insists the jury received all information either requested by the group or identified as necessary by the stakeholder reference group (SRG).

The group included lawyers, insurers, health professions, government and consumer representatives.

DemocracyCo founder Emma Lawson said the jury was carefully supported by the experts.

“Many months were spent by the SRG assessing and considering these issues,” she said.

“When asked, the vast majority of the jury indicated that they felt that they had the information needed to make the decision.”

Ms Lawson said despite some jurors being absent, she did not consider altering the process because it was “integral that those who determined the objectives also assessed the models against the objectives”.

A ‘positive process’ for many

Prior to the final presentation of the chosen model, most jurors in the room spoke positively of their experience.

Several described it as rewarding, respectful and engaging.

‘I have six grandchildren who live in Canberra, and to think that I participated in something that I’m going to leave them, to give them a better life if something does go wrong I think it’s important,” one said.

Juror Jenni Paradowski told the ABC the process allowed for a representative and diverse group to come together and be heard.

“People had very strongly held views on a lot of matters but what I saw over the weekends was people willing to listen and shift their perspective as they got more insight and information,” she said.

Another juror, Darryl Massey, labelled it a “tremendous opportunity”.

The jurors were part of a random selection of 6,000 Canberrans, which was eventually narrowed to just over 50 who were chosen to be in the final group.

Chosen scheme to begin mid next year

The ACT Government insists jurors were well informed and had access to additional material as required.

A spokeswoman said the process was independent and robust, allowing jurors to consider a range of perspectives on CTP insurance schemes in a timely and professional manner.

“The jurors overwhelmingly favoured the model chosen,” the spokeswoman said.

“The inclusion of a minority report in the final jury report is a transparent way of the jury being open about any dissenting views on the chosen model.”

The Government said the chosen model would cover 40 per cent more people and give everyone earlier access to benefits.

Currently, only not-at-fault drivers can access compensation outside of a $5,000 medical payment, leaving anyone injured in an accident with wildlife or due to a medical issue not covered.

It also relies on common law claims for negligence, which can take years to resolve.

The Government says it’s “absolutely committed” to implementing the chosen scheme and has commenced drafting legislation for expected commencement in the second half of next year.