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Thursday, 4 September 2008
Page: 7145


Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (9:01 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I am pleased to introduce a bill to establish Safe Work Australia as an independent national body whose role will be to improve occupational health and safety outcomes and workers compensation arrangements across Australia.

The government has set itself the task of creating a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary state duplications, overlaps and differences. Occupational health and safety is a prime candidate for this sort of reform. More than 300 Australians are killed each year at work. Many more die as a result of work related disease. Each year over 140,000 Australians are seriously injured at work. The cost to our economy has been estimated at $34 billion per year. The cost to those injured and to their families, workmates and friends is inestimable.

Our health, safety and compensation systems are in a sorry state—unnecessarily complex and costly. Inconsistencies between jurisdictions mean that some workers are at risk of poorer safety standards than their counterparts in other states. At the same time, these inconsistencies increase the complexity, paperwork and costs for the 39,000 Australian businesses that operate across state boundaries.

The establishment of Safe Work Australia is an essential part of the government’s strategy to improve safety outcomes and workers compensation arrangements across Australia. Since coming to office we have:

  • Undertaken a review of the Comcare scheme
  • Set up an independent panel of experts to conduct a national occupational health and safety review, and
  • Developed a landmark intergovernmental agreement with our state and territory counterparts to harmonise occupational health and safety legislation nationally.

This bill, together with the intergovernmental agreement, ushers in a new era of cooperation and collaboration between the Commonwealth and the states and territories in this important area: a collaboration which will improve the health and safety of workers across Australia and reduce the complexity of regulation for businesses.

Safe Work Australia will replace the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, established by the Howard government as an advisory council whose functions were confined to coordinating, monitoring and promoting national efforts on health and safety and workers compensation.

This bill establishes Safe Work Australia as an independent reform-focused body, with the power to make recommendations directly to the Workplace Relations Ministers Council, WRMC.

As we promised in the lead-up to the election, Safe Work Australia will be an inclusive, tripartite body. It will be comprised of 15 members, including an independent chair, nine members representing the Commonwealth and each state and territory, two members representing the interests of workers, two representing the interests of employers and the chief executive officer. The members will be supported by the chief executive officer and staff who together, will form a statutory agency under the Public Service Act. The body will be subject to Commonwealth governance regimes and will be a prescribed agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

Safe Work Australia will:

  • develop national policy relating to occupational health and safety and workers compensation
  • prepare, monitor and revise model occupational health and safety legislation and model codes of practice
  • develop a compliance and enforcement policy to ensure nationally consistent regulatory approaches across all jurisdictions
  • develop proposals relating to the harmonisation of workers compensation arrangements
  • collect, analyse and publish occupational health and safety and workers compensation data and undertake and publish research
  • drive national communications strategies to raise awareness of health and safety at work
  • further develop the National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002-2012, and
  • advise WRMC on occupational health and safety and workers compensation matters.

The bill establishes the operational arrangements to support Safe Work Australia, including provisions relating to the nomination, appointment and terms and conditions of members, conflict of interest issues, procedures relating to the conduct of meetings and decision-making processes, and the development of plans and reporting requirements to the Workplace Relations Ministers Council. It enables the chair to constitute committees to draw upon a wide range of expertise for the performance of its functions.

Safe Work Australia will play a pivotal role in realising the government’s commitment and the commitment of all state and territory governments to work together to achieve harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws. It will have the important task of developing the model Occupational Health and Safety Act, model regulations and model codes of practice for approval by workplace relations ministers.

I have established an independent occupational health and safety review panel to advise the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council on the optimal structure and content of a model Occupational Health and Safety Act. The work of the panel is now well underway. The panel is currently examining public submissions and will present its first report to the Workplace Relations Ministers Council on 31 October, with the second report due at the end of January 2009.

For the first time in the history of our Federation, governments from each state and territory and the Commonwealth have formally committed to the harmonisation of occupational health and safety legislation through an intergovernmental agreement.

The Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety commits the Commonwealth and all states and territories to the adoption of the approved model legislation and, in a demonstration of the new spirit of cooperation, the agreement also provides that Safe Work Australia will be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

Safe Work Australia will also take forward the initiatives of the Commonwealth and the states and territories to streamline and harmonise workers compensation arrangements.

Occupational health and safety and workers compensation are too important to be neglected any longer. Workers’ lives and health are at stake, and so too is the efficiency of our economy. Occupational health and safety and workers compensation reform will increase profitability and productivity and better protect the lives and health of Australians. Safe Work Australia will play a pivotal role in this reform. I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Markus) adjourned.