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Wednesday, 13 May 2009
Page: 3609

Ms GILLARD (Minister for Education, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Social Inclusion) (9:03 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

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

This bill is being reintroduced because I am obligated under an intergovernmental agreement to use my best endeavours to deliver Safe Work Australia in the same terms as the intergovernmental agreement.

The bill is also being reintroduced to normalise the operational arrangements for Safe Work Australia and to establish these arrangements under statute.

In July 2008, for the first time in the history of our federation, governments from each state and territory and the Commonwealth 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 the body to progress the harmonisation of occupational health and safety and workers’ compensation arrangements, Safe Work Australia, will be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories.

The government set itself the important task of creating a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary state duplications, overlaps and differences. Occupational health and safety is a key area requiring regulatory reform.

Tragically, more than 260 Australians are killed each year at work. Many more die as a result of work-related disease. Each year over 135,000 Australians are seriously injured at work. The cost to our economy has been estimated at $57.5 billion per year. Obviously, the cost to those injured and to their families, workmates and friends is beyond measure.

As I have previously stated in the House, Safe Work Australia will be an inclusive, tripartite body 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 CEO. The members will be supported by the CEO 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 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.

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

The government sought to have this bill passed last year but three times the Liberal Party proposed unacceptable amendments to this bill. The Liberal Party stood firmly in the way of this crucial reform, reform which the business community has demanded of governments across the country for over two decades.

When I took the extraordinary step of laying this bill aside late last year I said that the Liberal Party were economic vandals. I do not retreat from that view. The Liberal opposition continually stands in the way of this government’s efforts to achieve a reform that will significantly advance a seamless national economy.

You ask yourself: why this economic vandalism? Is it because they talked about this reform for 10 years but could never achieve it or is it simply because they just do not understand the magnitude of the risk that the global recession presents to Australia’s economic wellbeing?

In the face of this opposition the government has not been idle. The important task of harmonising occupational health and safety has continued. With my state and territory colleagues on the Workplace Relations Ministerial Council, we have administratively established the Safe Work Australia Council and have asked the council to commence drafting the model occupational health and safety legislation.

Despite the default position of the opposition to oppose all government efforts to improve Australia’s productivity and to assist the economy, we are still on track to deliver uniform occupational health and safety legislation by the end of 2011.

States, territories, employers, workers and their families understand the importance of a single occupational health and safety system for Australia. They understand that the reform of occupational health and safety and workers compensation is too important to be stymied by the opposition any longer. They understand that workers’ lives and the efficiency of our economy are at stake.

Occupational health and safety and workers compensation reform will increase profitability and productivity and better protect the lives and health of Australians. This reform is clearly good for business, good for workers, and importantly good for the national economy when every ounce of effort by Australian businesses and workers is vitally important.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Lindsay) adjourned.