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Wednesday, 7 December 2005
Page: 6

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) (9:27 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This OHS and SRC Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 implements the government’s response to a recommendation of the Productivity Commission in its report National Workers’ Compensation and Occupational Health and Safety Frameworks of June 2004. In that report, the Productivity Commission recommended extending coverage under the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 to eligible corporations which are licensed under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

The SRC Act establishes a premium based workers compensation scheme for Commonwealth employees but also enables former Commonwealth authorities and eligible private sector corporations to obtain a licence to self-insure under the scheme.

The OH&S(CE) Act provides the legal basis for the protection of the health and safety of Commonwealth employees. It does not, however, apply to former Commonwealth authorities and private sector corporations that become licensed self-insurers.

At present, therefore, former Commonwealth authorities and licensed private sector corporations operate under the Commonwealth workers compensation regime but are covered by state and territory occupational health and safety legislation in the jurisdictions in which they operate. This makes unnecessary difficulties for many firms to develop a national approach to occupational health and safety and may result in the requirement that they comply with eight separate and quite distinct occupational health and safety jurisdictions.

The amendments in this bill will provide all licensees under the SRC Act with the benefits of operating under one occupational and health and safety scheme together with integrated prevention, compensation and rehabilitation arrangements. This will produce better health and safety outcomes all round, including for the employees of the affected bodies. The amendments will enable greater coordination and feedback between the workers compensation and occupational health and safety arrangements.

The time and resources currently expended in addressing jurisdictional and boundary disputes caused by multiple compliance regimes can be redirected to achieve overall efficiencies. Importantly, savings can be devoted to further improving health and safety at the workplace.

The bill contains other amendments. The name of the act is being changed to the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 to reflect its extended application beyond Commonwealth workplaces. Consequential amendments are being made to other acts which contain references to the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act to reflect the new name of the act. The remaining amendments are mainly technical in nature.

Some amendments correct a drafting oversight in amendments to the SRC Act and the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act made in 2001, which rationalised scheme funding and placed the provisions for regulatory contributions for both acts in the SRC Act. Because of differences in the definitions of ‘Commonwealth authority’ in both acts, a regulatory contribution towards the costs of administering the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act cannot currently be charged to some Commonwealth authorities covered by that act but not by the SRC Act. The amendments will correct this oversight and validate payments already made for the year 2002-03.

The 2001 amendments also rationalised the licensing arrangements under the SRC Act and introduced one generic licence. Some licensees were charged, and paid, licence fees for the year 2002-03 under the wrong licence provisions. While the amounts were later recalculated under the correct provisions and reconciled, the amendments will also validate those licence fees as originally paid.

I commend the bill to the House, and I present the explanatory memorandum.

Debate (on motion by Mr Gavan O’Connor) adjourned.