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Thursday, 18 September 2008
Page: 7935

Mr HAYES (1:46 PM) —Before I turn to this very important piece of legislation, I would like to acknowledge the students from Claremont Meadows Public School who are in the gallery. They are constituents of my colleague, the member for Lindsay. Hopefully, they are furthering their education and seeing how we conduct ourselves here in the House. So I am assuming that they will not be here for question time.

As I said, the legislation before the House, the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 and associated bill, is very important. There are risks associated with any job, and far too often people get hurt or even killed in their places of employment. Injuries sustained at work can cause physical and emotional damage which may extend for lengthy periods of time or throughout a person’s career. A large number of deaths occur in workplaces all over the world—and supporting working families should be near and dear to all of us. The statistics show that in Australia alone more than 300 people lose their lives during the course of their work and many more die as a result of a work related disease.

A government member—Bernie Banton.

Mr HAYES —I thank my friend for acknowledging Bernie Banton. His situation typifies the case of a lingering injury that affects not only the person concerned but also their family—and, ultimately, in Bernie’s case, resulted in him losing his life.

Over 140,000 Australians are seriously injured in the workplace each year. I was talking to the CFMEU recently and they advised me that in 2006-07 there were 40 reported fatalities on building sites alone. That was up from 33 the year before. I know it is a very dangerous industry. I have two sons who work in the industry, so I personally have some knowledge of it. One of my boys only recently came back from working in Western Australia, out at Port Hedland. He was due to stay there for some time working as an electrician. He rang me one morning to confirm what we would be doing at Phillip Island, as we were both going down to see the motorcycle races this year. He called me back some time that afternoon and, in a distressed state, told me that one of the people he worked with, Andrew McLaughlin—a 52-year-old—unfortunately was crushed to death on the site.

My sympathies certainly go to the family of Andrew McLaughlin, who had family in Port Hedland, and his work colleagues. I certainly saw how his death affected my son. It resulted in him deciding that it was time to come home—which for a father is always good news. Notwithstanding that my son is 28 years old, you still care about your kids. That is why this legislation is so important. We all care about our kids and our families. Importantly, this legislation will ensure that we limit the risk for people who go about that normal, everyday function of going to work. It should be a normal, everyday function, with minimal risk of losing your life or sustaining a serious injury.

Recently the RTA of New South Wales indicated to me that, in New South Wales alone, there were 95 fatalities from crashes involving heavy vehicles. Again, these are work related. We might put them down to being a road based statistic but they are nevertheless work related fatalities. It should also be noted that there were 1,658 serious injuries that occurred as a result of those heavy vehicle accidents. As a matter of fact, Tony Sheldon, of the TWU, indicated to me that one in five fatalities on our main roads involves heavy vehicles. So one in five of those fatalities can be considered work related.

That is one of the reasons that I have exercised a lot of time in this House talking in support of the widening of the F5 freeway. The Hume Highway, which passes through my electorate, sees about 365,000 movements of freight per year involving heavy vehicles. For the people involved in driving these heavy vehicles there is a risk of work related injuries due to tiredness, fatigue or speed related accidents. That is why I supported, earlier this week, the AusLink bill, which contains provisions for this government to invest in rest and decoupling areas for heavy vehicle drivers, to ensure that when they are on the roads they are at a maximum level of alertness.

I should acknowledge that I have just had lunch and a meeting with Barry Dawson and Gerry Ping-Nam from the National Electrical and Communications Association, NECA. This group spearheads the training of apprentices. In New South Wales alone there are 350 apprentices who go through this training agency. As a matter of fact my son Nicholas, whom I referred to a little earlier, was a product of their training regime. He became an electrician’s apprentice after leaving school and went on to become an electrician. NECA does a fabulous job in training our apprentices.

One thing that Barry Dawson and Gerry Ping-Nam indicated to me today was the time and effort they put into ensuring that these young people develop not only a work ethic but a safety ethic, which they take to any job they go to. It is not one based on one employer being more vigilant about safety than another. Every graduate of the NECA training system has ingrained in them right from the outset the need to be specifically engaged in looking out for the safety not only of themselves but of their work colleagues. I congratulate Gerry Ping-Nam and Barry Dawson on what they are doing for young people in New South Wales in advancing a training regime and agenda which has the issue of safety front and centre.

A recent report of the Australian Safety and Compensation Council shows that workplace fatalities were 16 per cent higher in 2006-07 than they were in 2003-04. I know many will put that down to the fact that there were more people in the workforce. But we are talking an overall percentage, which is something that is critical to the way in which we advance training and safety procedures in workplaces. We do not want to have a regime that simply produces work at any cost. The value of life and the value of safety in the workplace are things that just cannot be compromised.

The ABS survey Work-Related Injuries, Australia, 2005-06 indicates that 689,500 workers experienced a work related injury or illness, a 44 per cent increase from the year 2000. That is an extraordinary increase. These are not just statistics; these are mums and dads or kids like my own or yours, Madam Deputy Speaker, who go to work each day. We should never look at these numbers as just statistics. They represent real people and they underpin our commitment to a safe, efficient and practical workplace. This fight, I understand, can never totally be won, but there are things that we must stay fixed on if we are ever going to reasonably address what should be a fundamental fairness in the workplace.

Monday fortnight, 29 September, is National Police Remembrance Day. This is a day on which to remember all those police officers who have lost their lives during the course of their employment. They too are workers. They too deserve safe workplaces. We expect the police to be the thin blue line that protects society from anarchy, but at the end of the day we have responsibilities to them. For that reason I have given notice that in the House next Monday I will move that we support and recognise the role of our police and recognise that many of their number put themselves in life-threatening positions on a daily basis and that many, unfortunately, have lost their lives in just causes on our behalf.

Reducing work related deaths and injuries is a formidable task. What we are looking for is a seamless transition to incorporating safe practices through education, through monitoring the way in which employers run workplaces and through people simply being able to do their jobs in a fair and safe manner. One thing that should be apparent to everyone in this place is that there have been numerous inconsistencies between the various state and territory jurisdictions on issues of work related health. These inconsistencies unfortunately lead to poorer safety standards in the various states and territories.

There is also an economic cost—if I could appeal to the economists amongst those on the other side—to doing this and getting it right. These inconsistencies and complexities increase the paperwork and costs of some 39,000 Australian businesses that operate in more than one state or territory. The estimated cost to our community is $34 billion per year. When you add to that the costs of injuries or deaths—including the cost to their families, friends and work colleagues—the figure is incalculable, and one that needs to be addressed. If anyone here has been unlucky enough to experience losing someone in the workplace they will know what I am talking about. As I said, my own son lost a work colleague. I know how it impacted on him. For those reasons we should stay fixed on this. Safe Work Australia is a critical first step in improving safety outcomes for all Australian workers.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Werriwa will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.