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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5835

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (8:47 PM) —While the chair is working through the subtleties of that, the position that I will put will be really in answer to the strategic and operational plans put forward by the Greens. As I understand it the Greens have amended their proposals to allow the opposition to also include some of the issues that would have otherwise been dealt with in amendments (4) to (19) by the Greens. That is as I understand it. I will put the position that the government will take and if there are additional points that you want drawn then it is really for the opposition to draw them out. In response to that the government will provide additional information. So in this instance I will put our position in front of the opposition’s, only so that they can then have an opportunity of hearing the position we are putting and pulling out any other salient questions they may have.

The government does not make any apology for Safe Work Australia reporting directly to the ministerial council. The government recognises that the states and territories have an important role in regulating occupational health and safety. If Australia is to have a harmonised set of OH&S laws, then it can only do so with the cooperation and agreement of the states and territories. One of the most important functions of Safe Work Australia will be the development of model OH&S legislation and codes of practice for approval by the WRMC and their subsequent adoption by the Commonwealth and each of the states and territories. If Safe Work Australia does not represent the collective views of states and territories, there is in truth little prospect of model legislation being adopted by the states and territories.

The states and territories are providing 50 per cent of the funding for Safe Work Australia, so it is appropriate that the WRMC has an oversight role in relation to Safe Work Australia’s strategic and operational plans. It is still Safe Work Australia’s responsibility to develop the plans, with the WRMC having a right to review and if necessary amend the plan. For the WRMC to have an effective role it needs to be given explicit powers to approve or reject a plan as well as the power to give directions to make specific alterations. If the bill is not drafted to give the WRMC such powers, the WRMC would have to rely on its informal authority rather than having a legislative authority. There is of course nothing stopping the WRMC from making informal suggestions or providing comments to Safe Work Australia outside of its legislative power to give directions.

The position put forward by the opposition is that, unlike when the opposition were in government, we are in the hands of the Senate to get the legislation up. The numbers are not on this side of the chamber. What we are asking, though, is that you give consideration to the position that I am putting. It is sensible to put the position that the intergovernmental agreement is a significant step forward. We need the facilitative legislation to ensure that we then arrive at the outcome—that is, model OH&S laws. It is a valid argument to put that we do not want to see the states starting to depart from model OH&S legislation arrived at through a consultative process as soon as it ends up in their parliaments. We want them to ensure that we have model legislation that reflects truly right across Australia. That is the position we are arguing for.

We are not asking the Senate to rubber-stamp anything. The opposition, when last in government, had the numbers to simply invoke their will. We are clearly not in that position. We are arguing the position that the best way forward to achieve the outcomes that we have put forward is to ask the Senate to approve the legislation unamended. And of course already we find that we are behind the eight ball in respect of a couple of amendments, and the numbers in this place might also mean that we are disappearing out the back door in respect of these amendments as well—if I look around the chamber and see what the numbers are.

Nevertheless, that does not deter me from arguing our case. We think it is a sensible position that we have put forward. We think it is consistent with the direction we are heading, which is to concentrate on the outcomes of ensuring that we have model OH&S laws for the prevention of accidents in the workplace. It is an important goal not to lose sight of in the arguments that we are having here this evening.