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Wednesday, 15 February 2017
Page: 1087


Senator CASH (Western AustraliaMinister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women) (21:04): Thank you, Senator Xenophon, for your comments. In the first instance, I would say I hope we are all in agreement in this chamber when we say that any death in the workplace is one too many. Despite comments that have been made—and sometimes comments are made in the heat of the moment—I personally do not believe there is anyone in this chamber who is not committed to a zero tolerance.

In relation to safety, Senator Xenophon, you would be aware that work health and safety on building sites is primarily the legislative and regulatory responsibility of state and territory governments. The role of the ABCC is to regulate workplace relations, to maintain the rule of law and to drive productivity. In relation to a number of claims that have been made that deaths in the workplace have gone up under this government, that is incorrect. The rate of fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry has trended downwards over the past decade. Senator Xenophon, as I said—and I know you appreciate this—while occupational safety and health is primarily the legislative responsibility of the states and territories, the Australian government is using its purchasing power to improve work health and safety in the construction industry in several ways.

The first way is through the Federal Safety Commissioner and the Australian Government Building and Construction Work Health and Safety Accreditation scheme. This sets out best practice standards on Commonwealth-funded building projects. Companies accredited under the schemes have better safety records. Another way we can exercise our rights in relation to safety is through provisions in the Building Code. The current Building Code—and, obviously, its predecessor, the Building Code 2013—placed stricter drug and alcohol management obligations on those contractors who wish to undertake Commonwealth-funded construction work. Senator Xenophon, you would also be aware that, at the behest of the crossbench, there is now a specific clause in the act which states that compliance with all laws, including occupational safety and health laws, is required under the act.

The government is also working with the states and territories, unions and employer associations through Safe Work Australia to continually improve workplace health and safety arrangements and laws and, under Safe Work Australia's Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022, the construction industry has been identified as one of the priority industries for prevention activities.

In relation to the discussions that I have had with you—and certainly discussions I have had with a number of crossbenchers: obviously, everyone is concerned about safety—yes, I will agree to seek that Safe Work Australia commissioner review into the effectiveness of workplace safety laws in the building industry. I thank you and I thank all senators for acknowledging the importance of safety across the board, not just in the construction industry.