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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11665

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (17:56): I rise to support the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and in doing so I have to say that I think the member for Wannon was supporting the legislation. I am not too sure—there was a lot of ambivalence about what he was saying. It was very difficult to follow the train of his contribution to this debate. It is not hard to see that he is a member of the party that supports Work Choices and would have it back in force in Australia at the drop of a hanky. It was also interesting to hear him misrepresenting the Prime Minister's statements made at a time when there was an agreement with all the state governments through COAG to introduce model legislation. The Prime Minister was not saying that this legislation had passed through parliament. The fact that the member for Wannon comes down here to this place and misrepresents the Prime Minister's statements simply shows how genuine he is in supporting this legislation.

This is very important legislation that will make a difference to employers, to workers and to those bodies that represent both employers and workers. The bill will implement the model Work, Health and Safety Bill, the model bill, within the Commonwealth jurisdiction, forming part of a system of nationally harmonised work, health and safety laws as agreed to by COAG in 2008 and the Workplace Relations Ministers Council in 2009 when, I might add, the Prime Minister was the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. This bill will apply to businesses and undertakings conducted by the Commonwealth, a public authority or, for a transitional period, a non-Commonwealth licensee. Once again, I have to refer to comments made by the member for Wannon. When he says he supports the Master Builders, I do not think anyone in this parliament would be surprised that the member for Wannon supports the Master Builders Association. When I listened to this contribution to this debate, all I heard was a person arguing for businesses, not a person who was trying to give a rounded view of what this legislation is about. Even when he was talking about training and the reduction in the number of accredited training courses, he did not say why those courses had lost their accreditation. This government is committed to quality training that actually delivers to workers and workplaces. What the member for Wannon did not say is that there are a lot of providers of training courses that are of a lesser standard than is needed. The government is making sure that the training courses that are delivered are accredited courses.

Access Economics estimated that harmonising work health and safety laws will save 40,000 businesses that operate across the country around $179 million per annum. It said the model law will also enhance safety protection for workers and do it in a way that is simple and easily understood, and the same rights and protections will be afforded to workers regardless of where they work or where their work is carried out. Labour mobility will also be increased by providing recognition of licences and training across jurisdictions. That is really important because, as we all know, the way the labour market works is that a person can be employed in one state, work in another state this week and in a different state again in the following week. The duties contained in the model legislation will also ensure that all workers are provided with protection while at work, whether they are employees, contractors or labour hire workers—and we know there is an increase in contractors and labour hire workers in the workforce—outworkers, apprentices, trainees, work experience students or volunteers, through the expanded definition of workers supported by a new compliance regime. So there are three really important facts: first, it is better for business; second, it provides more protection for workers across jurisdictions; and, third, it extends the definition so that people who previously missed out on being covered by occupational health and safety legislation will be covered.

I will share with the House experiences I had in my previous working life when I worked with people who were injured in the workplace. Often they would be people injured in a different jurisdiction to where I worked. In one case that particularly stands out in my mind, I was working in New South Wales and an injured worker came to see me who had been injured in Western Australia and had come back to New South Wales. So I had to follow it through a system that existed in Western Australia as opposed to the system in New South Wales, looking at occupational health and safety issues and workers compensation issues and how they varied in the New South Wales and Western Australian systems, and then there was a different system operating at that time for the Commonwealth.

This legislation will bring all the different systems together. The occupational health and safety system will cover the Commonwealth, and the model legislation will then be introduced in all the states. I think this is not only good for business and workers but good for the whole of our country. The model legislation was agreed to by the WRMC and, as I said, will be implemented in the Commonwealth jurisdiction and mirror laws will be introduced in the states. This has only happened after widespread and lengthy consultation. The member for Wannon was very critical of the fact that this had taken so long. Sometimes it is better to spend a little bit more time getting things right, consulting widely, rather than pushing legislation through the parliament.

Mr McCormack: Hear, hear!

Ms HALL: Thank you; I have support from the member for Riverina.

Mr McCormack: It comes with a hook, though.

Ms HALL: Yes, I am sure it does. There has been widespread consultation. Employers covered by this legislation have commented, as have the ACTU and members of the Safety, Rehabilitation Compensation Commission. There have been 29 submissions received and comments were taken into account when this bill was finally put together. The reforms will repeal and replace the current Commonwealth Occupational Health and Safety Act. The coverage of this bill remains similar to the OH&S Act insofar as it will apply only to Commonwealth public authorities and for a transitional period, as I said at the beginning of my contribution, to non-Commonwealth licensees.

This has been a long time coming. For the majority of Australia's history, when it comes to occupational health and safety and many other issues the states and the Commonwealth have in effect operated as separate nations through operating separate jurisdictions. By implementing this agreed model there will be some very important changes to occupational health and safety regulations in the Commonwealth and they will be mirrored in the states. That will advantage all the parties I have already identified—businesses, employers, workers, unions; all those involved in occupational health and safety. The bill will also ensure that occupational health and safety committees operate in the same way in the Commonwealth and in the states and that both employers and workers have rights and know their rights. When the changes in the bill are brought in, they will provide for a wider range of contemporary work relationships: contractors, employees, contractors, subcontractors, labour hire workers, apprentices and volunteers.

Labour hire workers, contractors and subcontractors have fallen through the cracks on many occasions when they have been injured or when they have needed to undertake training in proper safety. Because of their status in the workforce—they do not really fit into any particular pigeonhole—they often have not been provided with the same sort of training, compensation, coverage and access to occupational health and workplace safety as other workers have. This legislation addresses this, and that is a very important aspect of the legislation.

There is a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain circumstances. I know that most members of this parliament will have been approached by workers who have been forced to work in unsafe conditions. One case that was brought to my attention was of a person who was welding in the rain and was ordered to continue doing that. That person ended up having a serious accident, and the employer refused to call an ambulance because they did not want to have the accident reported to New South Wales WorkCover. But now, under this legislation, when it is mirrored in New South Wales and enacted in the Commonwealth, workers will be able to say, 'I'm not going to do that,' and they will be backed up by their right to say that.

Under the legislation there will be tougher penalties for failing to meet the duty of care as well as a removal of the Commonwealth immunity from criminal prosecution and a wider range of enforcement options, including infringement notices, remedial orders, adverse publicity orders, training orders and orders for restoration. These are all very important changes which will make our workplaces safer and have a positive impact for both employers and workers.

The bill also includes provisions to deal with issues that are specific to the Commonwealth. It will extend the application of work health and safety laws to members of the defence forces and other persons currently deemed to be employees for the purposes of the current OHS Act. It will also enable the Chief of the Defence Force and the Director-General of Security to disapply specific provisions of the act and establish Comcare as the sole regulator of OH&S in the Commonwealth. This is good, important, groundbreaking legislation that will change the way OH&S operates not only in the Commonwealth but also throughout Australia.