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
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.
(www.daretodo.asn.au) 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