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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11675


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (18:41): It is good to have the opportunity this afternoon to speak on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and the cognate bill. I take this opportunity because bills such as these greatly affect the employees and the businesses of Cowan. Within the electorate, the outer northern metro area of Perth, there are a number of suburbs that house the businesses of Cowan and, of course, many of those employees are my constituents. Malaga, Landsdale, Wangara and Gnangara are areas where there is much light industry being undertaken. We have a Volgren bus factory in Malaga and we have galvanising works in Landsdale; we have a number of those sorts of businesses where workplace processes can be risky for the employees. There is no doubt that we would welcome any harmonisation of occupational health and safety rules.

Sadly, it is not uncommon in this country for accidents and, unfortunately, even deaths to occur in work situations. It was not too long ago that a constituent family of mine from Wanneroo suffered the loss of their husband and father after he fell from a cherry picker in Kalgoorlie, where he was working. Those sorts of events really bring home to us as representatives of our electorates the realities of getting things right. When deaths and injuries occur in the workplace, they are absolute tragedies, and it is my view that these can always be avoided. There can always be more thought and more common sense put into these processes that would make these accidents avoidable.

The fact remains that workplace health and safety is a matter that is everyone's responsibility. It is not just the responsibility of the owner of a building, it is not just the responsibility of the manager of a business and it is not just the responsibility of an employee, not in any of these cases. The reality is that all levels of a business or any organisation need to be responsible and they need to accept their responsibility for occupational health and safety through these processes. As has often been said, common sense is not very common and risk is not foreseen by all. Therefore sometimes safety must be strongly engineered into both the physical facility of an organisation or business and into the processes that form part of any workplace.

At times there seems to be quite a bit of paranoia on the other side. When you look at the websites of organisations such as the Victorian Trades Hall Council there seems to be a bit of paranoia about people being out to get them. There is suspicion about motives all over the place with regard to occupational health and safety when the reality is, whether you are a business owner or manager or an employee, everybody wants a safe workplace. We do not want productivity undermined by having to deal with an accident. We do not want to have the problems following an injury or death inflicted on a worker's family. It is in no-one's best interest. No-one can conceive of that as a desirable outcome for anyone. It is wrong on every level and it is against everyone's intrinsic view of what is right and what is best. What we need to consider in all these matters to do with occupational health and safety is that we should assume there is goodwill on all sides. We should not be too worried about or too intent upon looking for misplaced motivations in the businesses of this country. As I said, it is in no-one's best interest that we undermine or do not take occupational health and safety seriously.

What we know about the model laws for occupational health and safety that this legislation goes to is that a review was conducted in 2008 into 2009. The review examined inconsistencies in occupational health and safety laws across the country. It has been said not only people by in this place but also by other commentators that one of the great motivations for this review was the stark problems in what was being done in New South Wales. The previous speaker, the member for Chifley, spoke of what was good and right in the New South Wales laws. According to these commentators, New South Wales had a set of laws with a default position of automatic guilt for employers regardless of the consideration of the control they had over the workplace processes. Because that was so different from the International Labour Organisation's accepted conventions, it highlighted the need for this sort of review to examine those inconsistencies across the country.

The process of harmonisation and trying to achieve uniformity in the occupational health and safety laws of this country did not just emerge in the last three years. This was acknowledged by the Howard government back in 2006. In this place, those on the other side give the impression that they are the only ones who care about the health and safety of workers in this country. It seems to be one of the great fallacies that there is only one side that cares for workers. There are often statements about 12 long years of neglect, a common phrase that has possibly not been used so much in the last year or so, but one of the great catchcries of the last parliament was how we allegedly never did anything. Of course, that always proves to be false. There is no doubt that the Labor Party have a strong interest in workplace safety laws. If you look at this legislation, it seems one of the things they are very keen on is making sure that union organisers get the opportunity to enter workplaces. Of course, that requires more jobs in the unions which means there are more jobs to be handed out. That is another reason they are keen on these sorts of laws.

Under the Howard government a number of occupational health and safety laws were introduced. I did a quick search and found the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment Bill 2000, the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Amendment (Employee Involvement and Compliance) Bill 2002, the OHS and SRC Legislation Amendment Bill 2005, the Australian Workplace Safety Standards Bill 2005, National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (Repeal, Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2005, to name a few. There were plenty of occupational health and safety laws before parliament in recent history. I would describe that as a long and dedicated commitment by the coalition to occupational health and safety. As I said, we are most definitely keen to progress the interests of employees and businesses in this country to make sure that people remain as safe at work as possible. We should always pursue this specific objective. As I said before it is in no-one's best interest to take shortcuts that can result in great tragedies. What we do see in these laws is that both sides apparently are committed to making occupational health and safety laws the best they can be. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Amendments have been foreshadowed by the shadow minister and I certainly support those. This is a time when we must look to the experiences of the past and then examine what the government has brought here on this occasion and see what can be done to improve it. There are other things that, as we all know, are not able to be saved as far as this government's legislation goes, but on this occasion there are things that can be improved.

I am running out of time but I wanted to cover the aspect of control. Again, this has been mentioned by previous speakers and it has to do with the great principles of workplace safety. Coming out of the 1972 Robens review in Great Britain the principle I want to speak to is that dealing with what is reasonable and practicable to control. That benchmark was taken up under the International Labour Organisation conventions to which Australia became a signatory in 2004. Of course, we know who was in government in 2004—a further clear and present commitment by the Howard government. Article 16 of convention 155 from the ILO states:

Employers shall be required to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable the workplaces, machinery, equipment and process under their control are safe and without risk to health.

The aspect of control is a very important matter.

I know that there were various submissions put to the OH&S review that railed against the aspect of control but control is a very important point. It is a requirement for people to accept a bit of personal responsibility in these matters. An employer or even an employee has a lot of dangerous functions within their control. Within this legislation unfortunately the term 'control' has been removed, so in a lot of respects that makes it a lot harder and a lot less clear in the ownership and establishment of a person's responsibility for safety. I think this could have a tendency to create a legal vacuum that may require case law in the future to try and fathom. The opposition's amendment to do with replacing the term 'control' is an important element that should be put back into the legislation and it will make it a better piece of legislation. I commend the amendment to the House. (Time expired)