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Wednesday, 12 October 2011
Page: 11678

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (18:56): I appreciate the opportunity to participate in the debate in relation to the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and related legislation. In the short amount of time available to me this evening I would like to speak more generally on some of the issues that have been raised by speakers on both sides of the House most recently by my good friend and colleague the member for Cowan, who I think adopted a very common-sense approach to his presentation to the House this evening particularly in his recognition that issues of occupational health and safety matters are of great concern for members on both sides of the chamber. The member for Chifley also approached this debate in a very bipartisan way and made some points that I think reflected very well on the House that really no party and no member in particular owns this issue. It is an area where the former Whitlam government, as I understand from the contributions of members opposite, and also the former Howard government started the process of harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws.

I would like to make the point from the outset that while legislation and regulations are extremely important when it comes to occupational health and safety it must be stressed that workplace safety is everyone's responsibility. I think there is a broad recognition now in the community and I do give credit where it is due. The union movement is not always a topic of great enjoyment for me and I am not a great supporter of some of their tactics but I think the union movement has played a very important role in raising safety issues.

Mr Marles: Hear, hear!

Mr CHESTER: I take the support I have been given from the honourable member opposite but there is always a question of making sure that we get the balance right. We need to make sure, in any regulations we impose on business and industry, that there is a recognition that there has to be a common-sense balance. I think business owners in the modern era very much recognise their important responsibility for their workers in the workplace.

My electorate of Gippsland is one of those which is probably very much a microcosm of some of the hazards that workers may face in the workplace. The regional industries that exist in Gippsland are probably some of the most potentially hazardous that you will face anywhere in Australia. We have the timber industry, we have the fishing industry, oil and gas, defence operations at East Sale, open-cut coal mines and the power generation sector, heavy vehicle operators, a significant construction sector and, of course, the agriculture sector, which has been one of those areas where it has been very difficult to drive improvements in occupational health and safety.

I think the sad part about this debate tonight is the fact which many members have already raised that 290 Australians are killed in the workplace every year and around 135,000 Australians are injured at work. It is one area where I do not think we can ever relax our guard. It is an area where we need eternal vigilance. It is a huge economic cost, obviously, but also the social impact of workplace injuries and deaths is something that is immeasurable. In making my brief contribution to the House this evening I recognise that the members on both sides have a very strong interest in occupational health and safety and that the harmonisation of these laws is something that there is broad support for across the chamber. Having said that, I will foreshadow that the coalition does intend to move some amendments at a later stage in the debate. We have some significant concerns that bear further consideration by the government.

Debate interrupted.