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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11601


Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (13:41): The Gillard government has been able to work productively with the states and territories, employer and employee representatives to achieve historic reform in working towards a seamless national economy. The Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and associated legislation that we are debating today ensures that the Commonwealth sticks to the agreement that it has made with the states and territories. A deal is a deal, and this bill honours that deal.

As a Labor government committed to reform that is in the interest of the entire nation, employee and employer representatives have been involved in the process throughout. I am excited that workers moving between the ACT Public Service and the Commonwealth Public Service or between the private sector and the Commonwealth public sector will now be able to expect the same standards of work health and safety in their workplaces.

I particularly support this bill because of the additional protections that it provides for workers who are performing work for the Commonwealth. Many of my constituents in the electorate of Fraser work for the Commonwealth, whether as an employee, a contractor or in another type of arrangement. This bill introduces rights for workers in the Commonwealth jurisdiction that have never existed as an entitlement under Commonwealth health and safety laws before. For example, union officials are now able to enter Commonwealth workplaces to speak with workers about health and safety matters.

The Work Health and Safety Bill significantly increases the penalties and the penalty regime for breaches of duty of care. The bill removes Crown immunity. It extends the requirement to consult with workers. It changes the person to whom a duty is owed from an 'employee' to a 'worker'—encompassing a broader type of working arrangement and type of person that might be in a workplace. All workers will have the right to cease unsafe work. It was a Labor government that first provided statutory health and safety protections for its own workers and it is a Labor government that continues this legacy. It continues the tradition of Labor being the party that cares for employees in the Commonwealth public sector.

I know that many would not consider the work of your typical public servant to be particularly risky. But there are many workers performing all sorts of different work for the Commonwealth in all sorts of different workplaces. Take, for example, the situation that workers at Centrelink or the Child Support Agency may find themselves in with an aggrieved or upset customer. Similarly, public servants working for the Department of Defence, for Customs, for immigration or for the Australian Federal Police might find themselves in high-risk situations.

The Commonwealth also has the unusual situation where many employees in this jurisdiction may be working outside of Australia. These workers may be in Australian territory, such as the Australian Antarctic Territory, or outside of it, such as a foreign embassy. The bill ensures that work health and safety duties continue to be owed to these workers. Just because they might be performing work in some other place, it does not follow that health and safety duties are no longer owed.

These reforms stand in stark contrast to the actions of opposition who seek to remove the protections and rights of workers at every turn. The opposition consistently talk about red tape and regulation, ignoring the records of countries with lax attitudes to health and safety and the dangers posed to workers with underregulated health and safety systems. It was the Liberal Party under John Howard who encouraged employers to move into the Comcare self-insurance scheme, placing pressure on the stretched resources of the hard-working people at Comcare and not properly resourcing areas for high-risk work. There were simply not enough inspectors to make sure that work was performed safely.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. Peter Slipper ): Order! It being 1:45 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a late hour, when the honourable member will have the opportunity to continue his remarks. Are there any statements by honourable members?