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Thursday, 4 December 2003
Page: 23906


Dr EMERSON (9:41 PM) —Labor would never condone violence and intimidation. The point I am making is that a young boy, aged 16, fell off a building site and, when asked about it, this minister was silent. I think an extreme violence is when a young boy falls off a building site, having been on that site in employment for three days with no decent occupational health and safety provisions in place—no guardrail, no harness, no scaffolding. The boy died, and the minister was silent. That is the point I made earlier: the minister has gone missing in relation to the death of Joel Exner.

The minister thinks it is a dreadfully serious matter when a person says something adverse to another, but when a young boy dies it is not serious. Three years earlier a 17-year-old boy fell off a site in Sydney in very similar circumstances—again, there was no harness, no guardrail and no scaffolding. The company was fined $20,000 and three years later had paid less than $2,000 of that fine. There was a rally of 10,000 proud trade union members in Sydney, and the minister was asked about that. And he was silent.

Extreme violence is displayed when a young man falls to his death because of the lack of occupational health and safety regulations being implemented on building sites. On average, one person in this industry dies every week. The minister invoked the analysis of an economics outfit, Econtech, which squeals that it costs 40 per cent more to put a wall on a high-rise building than it does on a house. This is supposed to be testament to shocking productivity in the construction industry. I say it should cost more to put a wall on a high-rise building than it does on a house for one simple reason: it is dangerous to work on high-rise buildings.

As a consequence, it is necessary in a decent and civilised society that there be safety provisions on high-rise buildings that are not necessarily applied to houses. But the minister and the Liberal Party missed this point completely. It appears that the Liberal Party is prepared to cut costs, to cut corners, to cut safety in this industry, and decent Australians will not stand for it. They will not stand for this winner takes all attitude and going for the cheapest bid even if it prejudices the safety of the young men who are employed in this industry.

This legislation is pernicious because it restricts the right of entry of union safety experts onto sites to examine the workplace health and safety provisions on those sites and to enforce them. This minister and this government do not want to see that happen, because they are into cost cutting; they are into safety cutting. You can cut costs if you cut safety, and that is what the Liberal Party believes in—the lowest bottom line, the cheapest bid, at the expense potentially of the lives of young people and older people employed in this industry. It is not all about the bottom line. What value does this minister put on a human life, when one person in this industry dies every week and the Cole royal commission found only two breaches of occupational health and safety? Around Australia, they found only two breaches, in Darwin.

That is why I say the Cole royal commission was biased and that is why we have in place now a Senate references committee to examine the occupational health and safety shortages and deficiencies in this industry around Australia. That is why this bill will not pass through the Senate—because this Cole royal commission either ignored completely or glossed over major issues, including occupational health and safety in this industry. This is a bill that was designed to fail from the outset. (Time expired)