Safer workplaces for more Australians (13/10/2011)

09 January 2013

safety-sign-caution.jpgPrior to my election to this place I was a lawyer and a union official. As such, I had the responsibility of representing workers who were injured at work. I had the very grave duty of having to visit grieving families who were suffering after the death or terrible injury of a loved one.

I campaigned alongside the now member for Charlton and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for justice for the victims of asbestos injury. I campaigned also alongside the late and great Bernie Banton to see justice for those who are victims of James Hardie asbestos diseases. It is for these reasons that I am very, very pleased indeed to be standing here today as part of the Gillard Labor government, talking in favour of this legislation.

It will be to their eternal and national shame that we have not seen one speaker from those opposite stand in this place and talk about the benefits of this bill and the importance of the subject matter. I thought for a moment that maybe those opposite might have been busy somewhere else, doing something else, talking on other matters of importance in this debate, but a quick scanning of parliamentary legislative lists in other places shows no such thing is constraining these members.

I think that it is a national shame that we have not seen those opposite talking on this matter. Perhaps they should draw their attention to the fact that in this country it is still true that we have more than four workers each week who die at work. That is almost one every second day. We see thousands more injured at work or travelling to or from work.

Perhaps they might be interested to know that as a result of the passage of this legislation we will be reducing the administrative burden on businesses. They are always talking about the administrative burden on businesses, but when they have got the opportunity to get involved and do something, to be proactive about reducing that administrative burden on business, they are seen to be wanting. Access Economics estimate that there will be about a $179 millionthat is close to $180 millionreduction in administrative costs to business as a result of this legislation and you would think that those opposite might show a bit more interest in the subject matter of the bill. But let that be upon their heads. I am very pleased to be talking about this important subject matter.

Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you would know, as a former worker yourself and somebody who has taken a keen interest in this area, that all Australian health and safety around the modern regime of occupational health and safety laws is built upon the foundation set by the Robens report. Our framework of health and safety regulation in this country is built upon the report of Lord Robens who, in 1972, chaired the committee of inquiry. In the committee's words, it can be summarised as follows:

The primary responsibility for doing something about the present levels of occupational accidents and disease lies with those who create the risks and those who work with them.

Fundamental to this framework was ensuring that workers in the workplace were empowered to ensure that they could stand up and challenge their employers when they encountered risks to their occupational health and safety in the workplace. Everything that we have done since the reporting by Lord Robens and his committee in all jurisdictions around Australia has been built upon that fundamental point: that empowering workers to take charge of their occupational health and safety in the workplace is fundamental to reducing the risks, the injuries, the disease and the fatalities that may otherwise occur in the workplace. So I am very pleased to be speaking in favour of this legislation.

It will of course provide a wider coverage of contemporary work relationships, including contractors, employees of contractors, subcontractors, labour hire workers, apprentices and volunteers. It essentially acknowledges that the workforce and the nature of employment relationships have changed over the last two decades, and that our occupational health and safety regulation needs to be modernised to encompass that. It provides a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain circumstances. It provides tougher penalties for failing to meet a duty of care. It removes Commonwealth immunity from criminal prosecution and provides a wider range of enforcement options, including infringement notices, remedial orders, adverse publicity orders, training orders and orders for restoration.

But most importantly, it creates the framework for creating a uniform national code for occupational health and safety legislation in this country. This is your classic win-win. It provides a uniform set of rights and protections for workers and it removes the administrative overburden that is associated with creating those rights for employees. It is something that all members in this House should celebrate, get behind, and vote in favour of.

Speech to Parliament 13 October 2011 - Second Reading - Work Health and Safety Bill 2011, Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011