ATH House magazine 15 _Page 25_

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ATH House magazine 15 _Page 25_ Powered By Docstoc
    One   When a tragic car accident left a three-month old baby orphaned and
           fighting for his life, his grandmother was there to fight for his future.
                   Helen Beringen reports on how one woman’s love, courage and
 determination inspired her to speak out and get the laws on compensation
       payments changed to help her grandchild and many other Australians.

T   he high excitement of a family
    holiday to Queensland plummeted to
the depths of despair early in the morning
                                                                     to compensation as a result of a motor
                                                                     vehicle accident or medical negligence and
                                                                     who are reliant on their compensation for
                                                                                                                                          annuity payments include a component
                                                                                                                                          related to the investment earnings on the
                                                                                                                                          underlying sum.”
of 27 November 1993.                                                 the rest of their lives. They introduce the                          The passage of the bill is largely a
A tragic roll-over near Newcastle in New                             concept of a tax-free indexed pension to                             testament to the courage and determination
South Wales left two young parents dead                              fund life-long care, rehabilitation and                              of Mrs Stephens, and the many others she
and three pre-school aged children                                   medical needs.                                                       gathered to help her achieve her dream.
orphaned in the wreckage of the family’s                             In Judie Stephens’ own words: “Structured                            “On the passage of the bill I was ecstatic,”
four-wheel-drive.                                                    settlements are win-win-win. They are                                she says. “As soon at it happened I cheered,
The youngest was Jackson, just three                                 good for the accident victims, good for
                                                                                                                                          then I ran out around the parliament
months old, flung 10 metres from the car                             government and good for defendant insurers.
                                                                                                                                          looking to hug the people who helped
during the accident and left brain-injured,                          They are also seen as a valuable tool to
                                                                                                                                          us achieve this.
blind and paralysed.                                                 help settle cases at reduced costs. They
                                                                     make excellent social and economic sense.”                           “I felt I was free and I had freed the
With the two older children escaping serious                                                                                              people who in the past had been the
                                                                     When foreshadowing such reforms in
injury and in the care of their paternal                                                                                                  victims of lump sums.
                                                                     September 2001, then Assistant Treasurer
grandparents, their maternal grandmother
                                                                     Rod Kemp said: “A major advantage of                                 “I felt like a fairy godmother . . . and I just
Judie Stephens took on the daunting
                                                                     a structured settlement over a lump sum                              floated through Christmas, it was my best
challenge of caring for baby Jackson. This
                                                                     compensation payment is that many                                    in years.”
included not only providing love and nurture
                                                                     people are unable to properly manage the                             For little Jackson, now aged nine, the
to promote his physical healing, but
                                                                     investment of their lump sum. This can                               legislative win will be a prelude to his
ensuring his financial future was secure.
                                                                     result in the early dissipation of                                   own court case, Jackson Stubbs v NRMA,
Her six-year journey through the minefield                           compensation payments, leaving people in
                                                                                                                                          heard in the NSW Supreme Court from
of politics, lobbyists and the media                                 a position where they are not able to meet
                                                                                                                                          March 3 this year.
culminated on 5 December 2002 with the                               the on-going medical and other costs
passage of the Taxation Laws Amendment                               associated with their injury.                                        Judie Stephens’ journey to help her grandson
(Structured Settlements and Structured                                                                                                    began at the foot of Jackson’s hospital bed.
                                                                     “The amendments will ensure that gravely
Orders) Bill 2002.                                                   injured people who are eligible to receive                           Doctors feared he would not wake up after
For Mrs Stephens, from Sylvania in Sydney’s                          large tax-free lump sum payments can                                 the accident, but Mrs Stephens told them:
south, the bill’s passage meant she had                              negotiate to receive all or part of their                            “You’re in charge of medicals, I’m in charge
achieved freedom—freedom for Jackson,                                compensation in the form of tax-free                                 of miracles, don’t turn the support systems off.”
and for the many other Australians with                              annuity or annuities.                                                As the helpless baby gradually passed
catastrophic compensable injuries.                                   “Currently, if an annuity were purchased                             milestone after astounding milestone in his
The new laws on structured settlements                               out of a lump sum tax-free payment, it                               recovery, Mrs Stephens took on the challenge
will assist injured people who are entitled                          would be taxable to the extent that the                              of securing a brighter future for Jackson.
Above: Judie Stephens at Parliament House on the day the new laws on structured settlements were passed by federal parliament. Photo: AUSPIC                                   Continued page 26

                                                                                                                                                                About the House March – April 2003   25
     Continued from page 25
     “It’s no use whingeing—if you are in trouble      Commonwealth, State and Territory                      of our laws and our government should
     you’ve got to find a solution,” she says.         Ministerial Meeting on Public Liability                be welcomed and encouraged,” says
                                                       in March 2002 agreeing to taxation law                 Senator Coonan.
     Judie Stephens started reading and
                                                       changes to encourage such schemes. It was              Surviving so far from personal reserves,
     researching—finding out how structured
                                                       recognised that structured settlements                 Mrs Stephens has created a full life for
     settlements work and how they can be used
                                                       could help tackle the problem of rising                Jackson, sacrificing her career as a financial
     to help secure life-long care for accident
                                                       insurance premiums by allowing the                     planner in order to care for him.
     victims. With help from the University of
                                                       damages awarded to be more closely aligned
     Wollongong, she set up a website                                                                         “I may have lost a business, but I gained so
                                                       with the actual needs of an injured person.
     ( to help raise                                                                      much more for so many people,” she says.
     awareness of the issues.                          Introduced to Australia’s House of
                                                       Representatives on 6 June 2002 as the                  “If I work in business I only help Jackson,
     Assisted by the devotion to Jackson of                                                                   if I work in law reform I help all
                                                       Taxation Laws Amendment (Structured
     her former husband, Peter Stephens,                                                                      compensable Australians.”
                                                       Settlements) Bill 2002, the final legislation
     Mrs Stephens’ journey led her to approach                                                                Although still blind, Jackson walks in
                                                       included a number of amendments to improve
     her friend Danna Vale, the federal Member                                                                a walker, says a few words, has a great
                                                       the operation of the bill. Mrs Stephens
     for Hughes (NSW) and now Veterans’                                                                       understanding of the world around him
                                                       believes the most important of those
     Affairs Minister.                                                                                        and is learning to feed himself.
                                                       amendments is the introduction of structured
     “When I went to her and spoke to her              orders to provide the courts with a role in            He has travelled to the USA and Canada,
     simply about it, she said ‘this should happen’.   the instigation of structured settlements.             visited Disneyland, goes to scouts, snow
     She said ‘this makes sense’, and it did,” says                                                           skies, swims, belongs to a sailing club, and
     Mrs Stephens. “She got us going.”                                                                        even surfs down at Cronulla beach with his
     Danna Vale describes Mrs Stephens as a                    It’s no use whingeing—                         local surf life saving club.
     phenomenal woman whose tenacity and                                                                      Although Mrs Stephens has now created
     understanding led to the reforms.
                                                           if you are in trouble you’ve got
                                                                                                              a life of certainty for Jackson, the
     “She was absolutely committed and convinced                    to find a solution.                       challenge continues.
     that this was an issue whose time had come                                                               “I intend to spend the rest of my life as
     and it was just a very logical way to go                                                                 a law reform advocate, to make changes
     when you looked at the research,”                 She says she was not daunted by the task               for people who are injured and
     Mrs Vale says.                                    of trying to change the tax system. “I just            disadvantaged,” she says.
                                                       knew I had to do it—I started networking
     “All I did for Judie was open the door and        and never let go of it.”                               “It’s great to dream and make it happen.
     once she had her foot in the door she kept                                                               “But there is work to be done—I now have
     it open and she kept talking.                     Then there came the lobbying: “There was
                                                       the Treasurer, department officials, actuaries . . .   to ensure that these laws are enacted at a
     “She’s a shining example of what a citizen        it became a huge thing.”                               state level.”
     can do when they see something needs                                                                     Mrs Stephens will now lobby for uniform
     to be done.”                                      Senator Kemp recalls: “Judie Stephens
                                                       came to see me in 1999 accompanied by                  motor accident laws around Australia.
     Joining with the Structured Settlements           her lawyer Jane Ferguson [now Jane Campbell].          “We need to educate and inform solicitors,
     Group—comprising the Australian Plaintiff         The case for encouraging the use of                    plaintiffs and judges that structured
     Lawyers Association, the Law Council of           structured settlements was strongly put and            settlements and structured order solutions
     Australia, Injuries Australia, the Insurance      there is no doubt that the work of these               are now available,” she says.
     Council of Australia, United Medical              two women set the ball rolling to get the              “We also need to ensure that catastrophically
     Protection and the NRMA (with the                 changes through parliament.”                           injured people automatically gain the right
     Australian Medical Association coming on
                                                       Assistance came from many quarters,                    to proper rehabilitation and care.
     board in 1999)—Mrs Stephens began
     lobbying politicians to change the laws to        especially the Structured Settlements Group            “But my first priority is to care for and
     ensure a lifetime of financial security for       and its first chairman, Dr Richard Tjiong              nurture Jackson. I am his mum, grandmother,
     her grandson.                                     of the Medical Defense Union. Another                  carer and provider, for as long as he survives.
                                                       “amazing individual”, says Mrs Stephens,               At the same time, he’s my teacher and he
     As Jackson progressed through the healing         was David Bowen, General Manager of the                gives me greater insight and understanding
     process, Mrs Stephens continued her own           Motor Accidents Authority of NSW.                      into our life together.
     learning process in the area of structured
     settlements, leading in 2001 to a fact            “Nobody ever said no, we just had a                    “I just feel happy that I’ve given something
     finding mission to Canada and the United          journey to take together,” she says.                   back—I like to make things better.
     Kingdom—two countries where this taxation         Mrs Stephens praises many others in the                “Our losses have helped other people—
     initiative has been used with good results.       political process for helping make it happen,          that’s what helps me deal with my grief.”
     Structured settlements were first adopted by      including Assistant Treasurer Senator
                                                                                                              Mrs Stephens’ inspirational website offers
     the United States and Canada in the 1970s         Helen Coonan and Labor MP Kelvin Thomson,
                                                                                                              an insight into her journey toward
     and by the UK in 1987.                            who went to visit Jackson in Sydney.
                                                                                                              legislative reform and her personal attitude
     While tax revenue foregone as a result of         In return, they have commended Mrs Stephens            which ensured her success.
     such schemes has been estimated to plateau        for her tenacious campaigning. “I pay tribute          “The journey has led me to believe with
     at about $20 million after 20 years,              to her for the work that she did tirelessly,           all my heart that all we need to succeed,
     structured settlements have been shown            lobbying members of parliament, ministers              to overcome and to shine in our caring
     internationally to save taxpayers more            and so on to get the result that we are                endeavours is attitude—an attitude to
     millions indirectly through reduced payments      talking about today,” said Mr Thomson in               life that makes every day a joy and every
     under the welfare system, as well as ensuring     his speech on the bill in September 2002.              tiny achievement a milestone to cherish,
     life-long security for those injured.             “In our democratic system there are many               and every hurdle just another challenge
     In Australia concern about increased              opportunities for individuals to get involved          that I will overcome.”
     public liability costs gave impetus to the        in the legislative process and active                  Helen Beringen is a freelance journalist
     case for structured settlements, with a           participation to improve the functioning               from Canberra.

26     About the House March – April 2003

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