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Wednesday, 25 November 2009
Page: 12828

Mr HALE (1:15 PM) —I rise today to make some brief comments in support of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Amendment Bill 2009. The bill proposes to amend section 100 of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988, the SRC Act, to provide the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations with an absolute discretion to consider requests for declarations of eligibility for a Comcare self-insured licence under the SRC Act. The aim of the amendment is to make explicit that section 100 of the SRC Act empowers but does not oblige the minister to consider or determine requests for declarations of eligibility. This amendment will apply to new requests or applications and to any existing applications that have been made but not determined.

There was a reasonable amount of consultation on this bill. Comcare and the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission were consulted on the impact that the measures would have on the Comcare self-insurance licence scheme. I would like to commend the contributions made by the members for Shortland, Deakin and Flynn. The member for Deakin has a long history of fighting for the rights of workers, and I enjoyed his contribution in particular. Having said that, the bill is not opposed by the opposition, although the member for Stirling did touch on some of the concerns the opposition has about the bill. Certainly the comments he made were about the broader ideology of what the Labor government is about. I think that, in this case, his comments were not warranted. This is one of those times when, with a piece of non-controversial legislation, the opposition once again has chosen to drive the idea that there is some sort of hidden agenda, some sort of left-wing conspiracy out there. That is not the case at all.

The bill is for the Comcare scheme that provides workers compensation and occupational health and safety arrangements for employees of the Australian government and of some private sector companies that self-insure their workers compensation liabilities under the scheme. It was a promise at the last election that a Rudd Labor government would impose a moratorium on companies seeking to join the Comcare scheme, and we announced a review to ensure that Comcare was a suitable OH&S workers compensation system. Given the progress towards the harmonised national OH&S laws and the proposed transfer of the OH&S coverage for Comcare self-insurers to the states and territories the government will maintain the moratorium until 2011, when uniform OH&S laws will have been implemented across all jurisdictions. To do otherwise would cause unnecessary dislocation, in that companies would need to adapt to Comcare and then quickly change again to adapt to the new model laws.

The government will introduce legislation to give effect to the moratorium for this further period. Currently, applications for inclusion in the Comcare scheme are automatic, bar the moratorium that was put in place at the time of the Comcare review. The government had regard to the Report of the review of self-insurance arrangements under the Comcare scheme, prepared by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The department’s report drew on information from stakeholder consultations, and there were over 80 written submissions to the review. The department engaged Taylor Fry Consulting Actuaries to collect the information and provide expert advice to inform the review.

This bill aims to continue to improve the systems that we have in place with regard to workers compensation and safety and rehabilitation. As the member for Deakin said, over 300 people lose their lives and 120,000 people are injured at work in Australia each year. Those figures are horrendous, and there is no excuse for them. If one person loses their life at work, it is one person too many. If one person is injured at work, it is one person too many. In a modern, industrialised country such as Australia it is paramount that, as we develop and become a stronger economic base and a stronger First World country, we make sure that we have laws that suit our development in how we care for and look after our workers. It is not good enough that any shortcuts are taken with the safety of workers in this country. Certainly all speakers in this debate have touched on the importance of our laws and our work safety authorities to make sure that our workers are safe at all times. It is very important that as we advance in technology, as we advance in making machinery and in using industrialised machinery in workshops and factories, we continue to update our workplace safety procedures as well as upskill our workers with regard to their personal safety and the safety of workers who are around them. As I said, 300 people losing their lives at work in Australia each year is an unacceptable statistic. It is something that we really need to address and continue to address quickly.

I would like to briefly mention a person who, unfortunately, lost their life earlier this week—a Northern Territorian by the name of David Magree. David was married to Julee. They had three children—Michael, Allison and Rachael. David was a drill operator at the Granites mine, near Alice Springs. He was 50 years old.

There is an ongoing investigation into what has happened, so I will not make comment regarding the events that surrounded David’s untimely passing. But I will say that the people within my office work closely with his son, Michael, who is the Transport Workers Union delegate and organiser in Darwin and who does a fantastic job. Obviously, the Transport Workers Union works closely with the trucking industry, and so many truck drivers in this country lose their lives each year. Our heartfelt condolences go out to Michael, to his mother, Julee, and to his two sisters, Allison and Rachael, on the untimely passing of their father, David. It came as a great shock to the whole community. David was just 50 years old and unfortunately succumbed to injuries that he received at the Granites mine on Monday morning. To the Magree family I put on the record my condolences and those of the Labor Party in the Northern Territory, of my office and of the offices of Warren Snowdon and Senator Trish Crossin.

It is very important that we continue, as I said, to analyse our work safety procedures and to make sure that Australian workplaces are the safest in the world. As our productivity rises, we should make sure that enough of our earnings, enough of the money that we make and enough of the money that goes to shareholders consequently is put back into ensuring that the capital continues to improve and that the maintenance is done on the machinery and infrastructure with which workers work. As I said, this bill is non-controversial and I support it. It will amend section 100 of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 to provide the minister with the absolute discretion to consider requests for declarations of eligibility for a Comcare self-insured licence under the SRC Act. I commend the bill to the House.