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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 11814

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (10:44): It is my pleasure today to speak on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and the Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011. I wish to commence my contribution to this debate by highlighting that the Labor Party has, for a very long time, had a very proud record of supporting people in their workplaces, to ensure that they do have a safe place to go to work and that the employers provide for them all the necessary skills and tools to work within that workplace in a safe way.

Earlier today we were dealing with a private member's piece of legislation that dealt with occupational health and safety issues around firefighters acquiring various cancers as a consequence of the work that they undertake in providing a service to the community and dealing with fires, particularly in structures, and the carcinogens that those firefighters come across.

One of the commitments that Labor took to the 2007 election was to commence a process of harmonising our occupational health and safety laws across this nation. The reason we want to do that is that, despite the fact that we come from a federation, workers are becoming far more mobile than they ever used to be and employers are working across jurisdictions. It is becoming a real problem not only for those workers but also for those employers in having different sets of occupational laws depending in which state a worker might be employed in on any particular day. There are many industries where employees consistently and constantly cross borders, often moving from one jurisdiction to another.

In 2008 we commissioned a review into what model occupational health and safety laws might look like and commenced a process. As a government we received some 242 submissions from state governments and universities, industry groups, individuals and other key stakeholders such as trade unions on what some model occupational health safety laws might look like. I would like to thank all of those who participated in that process. A model act was subsequently developed in September 2009 and was put out for a six-week period for consultation and feedback from all of the stakeholders. Since then we have been working on the necessary legislation and consulting with the states through the ministerial council in terms of those particular laws. And today we are currently debating those draft laws and what they might look like from a Commonwealth perspective.

There will be requirements from the states and territories in order for them to, as they have agreed to do, harmonise their occupational health and safety laws so that they mirror the agreement that we have reached with them. I certainly look forward to the states and territories getting on with that work so that we can develop a consistent set of occupational health and safety laws throughout this nation to provide protection and coverage for workers.

Analysis undertaken by Access Economics estimates that harmonising work health and safety laws will save some 40,000 businesses, which operate across state boundaries, around $179 million per year—providing very substantial savings to the economy, making this nation even more productive. Importantly, this not only will provide great savings for the nation but will also ensure that workers and employers understand more comprehensively the obligations of occupational health and safety and enable the opportunity for employees, particularly those who work across multiple jurisdictions, to have a comprehensive understanding and be able to take measures in accordance with the provisions of these harmonised legislative arrangements to protect their own occupational health safety in work in conjunction, of course, with employers.

In workplaces where occupational health and safety is not a priority, injuries will of course occur. Those injuries are an enormous drain on the productivity of the nation and the productivity of the workplace. It is in everyone's interest that people are protected in the workplace from injury, whether it be physical injury such as back injuries or the like, or whether it be psychological injuries such as stress and the like. It is incumbent on all jurisdictions to work to put in place those arrangements.

(Quorum formed) I might take this opportunity to point out the absolute shameless way that Tony Abbott treated Bernie Banton in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election. Bernie was dying of asbestosis—

Mr SECKER: Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, I rise on a point of order. Members should refer to other members of the House by their seat or title.

Mr CHEESEMAN: Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition back then treated workers who were dying of asbestosis in a shameful way. It was a blight on this nation. Bernie was a worker, as I understand it, who after many years of working on the wharves had developed asbestosis. In 2007 the then Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, now the Leader of the Opposition, made an outrageous claim that Bernie Banton was only doing what he was for political reasons. The reality is that Bernie was dying of a deadly disease that he suffered because of the work that he undertook for many years, particularly, I think, in New South Wales. The reality is that the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott do not care about the rights of workers in the workplace.

Mr SECKER: Madam, Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Members should refer to other members of the House by their seat or title.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): I remind the member for Corangamite that he should refer to members by their correct titles.

Mr CHEESEMAN: Indeed, and I apologise to the House for that. The reality is, of course, that the Liberal Party have no concern for workers in the workplace. The Labor Party do. We have a very proud history of putting in place legislative protection for workers in the workplace to ensure that those workers can earn an income and go home from work free from injury—whether it be injuries such as back injuries, injuries that come from dealing with complicated and dangerous machinery or indeed stress related injuries from things such as excessive workloads or workplace bullying.

The Labor Party continue to deliver on this very proud tradition of putting in place occupational health and safety laws throughout this nation to protect the interests of working families. If the Liberal Party can bring themselves to actually support some legislation that supports workers for once, I look forward to this legislation passing this place and hopefully the Senate. Indeed, I look forward to the states and territories undertaking the necessary legislative reform in their jurisdictions to ensure that harmonisation does truly take place.

As I indicated earlier, Access Economics has indicated that there will be a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of productivity, a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of occupational health and safety costs and, I believe, a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of the costs of dealing with and treating injuries in the workplace. This is good reform. It is reform that is necessary to recognise the complexity of business and the complexity of some 40,000 enterprises now undertaking work in multiple jurisdictions across the Commonwealth.

As I said earlier, the Labor Party have a proud history of putting in place protections for workers and we do treat people like Bernie Banton with the respect that they deserve and ensure that they do have the opportunity to seek compensation, unlike the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, who treated them appallingly.