The Standing Committee of Attorneys General, meeting in Perth yesterday, did not reject the prospect of placing a ceiling on professional liability claims.
Western Australian Attorney General Joe Berinson said he was concerned this impression had been given in some media reports today.
"The decision by the Attorneys General was to defer any State legislation on the matter pending a report from a new national working party on potential conflicts between limitations on liability and Commonwealth corporations law," Mr Berinson said.
"As it was not expected that proposals for legislation in Western Australia could be finalised before 1993, this deferral decision did not create any difficulty."
Mr Berinson said professional liability was a serious and complex issue.
"The present system of unlimited liability has led to extremely high insurance premiums for professionals wanting to protect themselves, a failure to obtain insurance by others, and defensive practices such as transferring assets from an individual's own name," he said.
"This in turn causes great uncertainty for claimants as to whether a claim, even if justified, can actually be met."
Mr Berinson said that on the initiative of the State Government, a Western Australian Legislative Council select committee headed by Mr Max Evans was currently considering the whole issue. The committee would continue its work while the new national working party considered the narrower question referred to it by the standing Committee of Attorneys General.
The WA committee was looking at professional liability for all professional groups, including accountants, doctors, lawyers, architects, investment advisers, engineers, and builders, and whether or not these were in a company structure.
"Early indications from the select committee are that the Government's concerns were well founded and that the current examination of the problem should continue," he said.
"At the end of the day, Commonwealth powers over companies may limit the States in what can be done without Commonwealth agreement. But there are widespread problems beyond the corporations law.
"I expect that the work of the new working party will lead to further recognition of the problems we have already seen," he said.
"Western Australia will participate on the new working party, and will stress the need for its report to be finalised as soon as possible."