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Thursday, 18 September 2008
Page: 7929


Mr BIDGOOD (1:19 PM) —Before I start to talk about the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 and the Safe Work Australia (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2008, I would like to acknowledge a few schools and students who are present in parliament today. I welcome the teachers and 52 students from Mackay West State School in the seat of Dawson. It was a pleasure to talk to them this morning and to give them insights into how this great democracy works. I also wish to acknowledge the students from Claremont Meadows Public School who are in the gallery today. I also wish to acknowledge the presence in the chamber of my colleague the member for Lindsay, who is a long-time resident of the Claremont Meadows community. It is always good to welcome students and teachers to this House and to set a good example of how our democracy works.

I rise to speak in favour of the Safe Work Australia Bill. The government has set itself the task of creating a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary state duplications, overlaps and differences. We do this because we care about building a better Australia now and into the future. Occupational health and safety is a prime candidate for this sort of reform. It is a fact that more than 300 Australians are killed at work each year. 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 from death or injury has been estimated at $34 billion per year. The cost to those injured and to their families, workmates and friends is inestimable. 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 (1) undertaken a review of the Comcare scheme, (2) set up an independent panel of experts to conduct a national occupational health and safety review and (3) 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. Safe Work Australia will (a) develop national policy relating to occupational health and safety and workers compensation; (b) prepare, monitor and revise model occupational health and safety legislation; (c) develop a compliance and enforcement policy to ensure nationally consistent regulatory approaches across all jurisdictions; (d) develop proposals relating to the harmonisation of workers compensation arrangements; (e) collect, analyse and publish occupational health and safety and workers compensation data and undertake and publish research; and (f) drive national communications strategies to raise awareness of health and safety at work. 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.

The purpose of the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 is to establish Safe Work Australia as an independent Commonwealth statutory body to improve occupational health and safety outcomes and workers compensation arrangements in Australia. The bill will play a pivotal role in realising the government’s commitment to work cooperatively with the state and territory governments to improve occupational health and safety outcomes and workers compensation arrangements in Australia. It will do that by empowering Safe Work Australia to, firstly, develop national policy in respect of occupational health and safety and workers compensation; secondly, prepare model OH&S legislation and model OH&S codes of practice for approval by the Workplace Relations Ministers Council and adoption by the Commonwealth, the states and the territories; thirdly, develop a compliance and enforcement policy to ensure that a nationally consistent approach is taken to compliance and enforcement; fourthly, develop proposals relating to the harmonisation of workers compensation arrangements across all jurisdictions and proposals for national workers compensation arrangements for employers with workers in more than one jurisdiction; fifthly, build expertise across OH&S laws and workers compensation schemes that will be readily accessible across jurisdictions and industries and will reduce the complexity and costs for businesses, including businesses that operate across state boundaries; and, sixthly, undertake data collection and research and publish findings to ensure that all jurisdictions and industries have access to up-to-date and industry-specific information that will enable employers and workers to adopt practices that will reduce instances of risk and injury in workplaces across Australia.

Safe Work Australia will be a reform focused body with the power to make recommendations directly to the Workplace Relations Ministers Council. Safe Work Australia will be 50 per cent funded by the Commonwealth and 50 per cent funded by the states and territories. The bill will also create and maintain mechanisms for review and revision of the effectiveness of Safe Work Australia in performing its functions. This will ensure that the body is active and operating efficiently and responsively in meeting its strategic and operational goals. One of Safe Work Australia’s primary functions will be to develop national policy relating to OH&S and workers compensation. National policy developed by Safe Work Australia will be used to drive harmonisation initiatives, such as the adoption and implementation of model OH&S legislation and consistent enforcement and compliance strategies, and the harmonisation of workers compensation arrangements across the Commonwealth, the states and the territories. I commend this bill to the House.