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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11660


Dr LEIGH (Fraser) (17:36): The laws that had previously developed for the Commonwealth jurisdiction were simply not equipped to cover high-risk industries. This meant that the Liberal Party put pressure not only on the workers who were forced into a new health and safety scheme but also on the public sector employees forced to cope with the additional pressure placed on an ill-equipped system.

The Liberal Party's expansion of the Comcare system also made things more confusing and less streamlined for employers and employees alike. The push to get employers to opt out of state and territory laws led to confusing situations with workers in the same workplace working side-by-side under different health and safety systems. It was a thinly disguised attempt to get more and more employers away from the state and territory systems and their well-developed involvement of unions in health and safety. All of this was because of their ideological opposition to worker representatives playing an active role in the development and enforcement of health and safety arrangements and their ideological opposition to union members being able to have an advocate to help them with a safety concern on short notice.

The Liberal Party cannot even stand by their claim to be operating in the interests of employers when it comes to health and safety. Their reforms increased confusion and made compliance more difficult, particularly in those high-risk industries that they had fought so hard to get away from state and territory schemes. Their industrial relations record also reduced the health and safety protections for workers. Meetings with unions to discuss genuine health and safety concerns became banned in agreements under Work Choices. The relationship with the Work Choices regime also meant that workers feared for their ongoing employment if they dared stop unsafe work. These reforms were all part of the extreme, ideologically-driven workplace agenda of the coalition.

We have seen evidence that the opposition continues in their ideologically-driven campaign against cooperation in the Australian workplace. The member for Bennelong recently said:

We have many examples in our region of coffee shops and the like not trading on weekends because of penalty rates.

It is something that must be addressed and it must be addressed without the position of the worker is king and must be given these rights.

The member for Bennelong is only concerned with the rights of businesses and employers. He has absolutely no regard for workers and no regard for the careful balancing act that is health and safety—that is, good industrial relations. The Leader of the Opposition has done absolutely nothing to silence those extreme voices in his own party demanding a return to the Work Choices era. Some of the main champions of Work Choices sit inside his own shadow cabinet. It demonstrates the Leader of the Opposition's commitment to continued ideologically-driven extremism within the Liberal Party, a tendency we see on every issue in modern politics from the mining tax to climate change.

The Labor Party has long known the confusion that arises when workers and employers need to get across 10 separate pieces of legislation. It is a confusion that it is all too evident in a place like the ACT, where a move from working in Queanbeyan or a switch between the private and the public systems might mean an entirely different health and safety system. A business operating out of the ACT but also servicing Queanbeyan has to be aware of compliance with two separate pieces of occupational health and safety legislation. These complexities add to the paperwork and costs for thousands of Australian businesses that operate across state and territory boundaries. This legislation is a historic change, supported by unions and employer organisations and which has had their input the whole way through the process. It has delivered a reform that the coalition was desperate to achieve but unable to do because of their extreme attempt to shut down unions and keep them away from members.

The Prime Minister has said time and time again that the Labor Party is the party of work and the party of workers. We have the interests of those workers in the forefront of our minds in everything we do. Whether it is protecting jobs, introducing paid parental leave, reinstating workplace rights or, in this case, guaranteeing safety in the workplace, the Gillard government has time and time again demonstrated its commitment to workers.

In closing, I would like to thank Louise Crossman, who deeply understands the issues of workers' health and safety and whose work in the union sector, in the public service and now as chief of staff in my office demonstrates her lifelong commitment to ensuring quality living standards and a quality workplace for Australian workers.