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Thursday, 13 October 2011
Page: 11816

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (10:59): I rise to support the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011. Workplace health and safety is incredibly important to our nation. Sadly, it does not always receive the attention it deserves. Each year, more than 300 Australians are killed at work and many more die as a result of work-related diseases. In addition to this, a staggering 140,000 Australians are seriously injured at work each year. Workplace death and injury has a devastating effect on individual workers, families, workplaces and our communities. However, I think one of the greatest tragedies in all of this is that many of these incidences at work are preventable. The pain and suffering that happens for these individuals, families and our community need not occur. Between July 2010 and March 2011, 16 people lost their lives as a result of a falling object, 13 people were killed when falling from a great height, 11 were crushed by machinery and eight were electrocuted. It is likely that with the right prevention processes in place these tragedies would not have occurred. I think it is very important that we on this side of the House are actually taking steps to strengthen and harmonise our health and safety.

We have been talking about this for some time. In fact, I think that over the last 10 or 15 years we have been talking about what it would mean to ensure that we had unified health and safety protections in place for workers right around this country. However, it has taken this government to actually start the hard work of ensuring that people are protected wherever they live in the country, and I think this is incredibly important.

When we hear occupational health and safety, people in their workplaces may at times think it is not that important and their eyes may glaze over. I know that as a teenager working in the retail industry I probably did not give the consideration to health and safety that I should have. I look back now at some of the dangerous practices that were engaged in at my workplace. I would stand on the top rung of the ladder and wait for my manager to throw boxes up to me, where I would catch them and put them on top of the overhung shelves. That is just one example. I look back now and think the consequences, if I or anyone else in my workplace fell, would have been devastating, and it was really only one step away. So I think we sometimes do not give it the attention it deserves, but I believe so strongly that we do need to give it more attention and make sure that Australian workplaces are safe places—that when people go off to work they come home alive and uninjured, safe to their families.

Australian workplaces have come a long way in implementing prevention strategies to prevent injuries. A lot of things such as guards, fencing and harnessing have been implemented and we have seen the number of deaths in our workplaces decline, but there is still a lot more to be done. Certainly in my experience when I was working as a representative for retail workers, a lot of shortcuts were still made. I remember one example that was incredibly preventable. I had visited a Hungry Jack's store. There was an employee who had been seriously burnt as a result of hot oil. He was asked to carry that bucket of hot oil—it was a plastic bucket—and he was seriously injured as a result of that. The authorities did pursue that company and they were fined for that incident, but there was a toll for that shortcut that seemed easy at the time. It had serious consequences for that young person.

So I am very pleased today to be speaking on this bill—to work towards a unified workplace health and safety scheme across the whole country. It does have, as the previous speaker said, large impacts to our economy. Unfortunately figures have shown that it is estimated that $34 billion is the cost to our economy of injuries at work.

Employees should not be fatally injured and have this cost to the economy. We should be doing something to improve that. As the previous speaker said, Labor does have a very proud tradition. (Quorum formed)

I was talking about health and safety, but I am going to acknowledge my parents are in the gallery, as well as the prize-winning Dr Jane Wright, who last night won the Prime Minister's award for secondary science teachers. She is my aunt and I am very proud to have her in the gallery. She is an exceptional teacher who inspires young people about science. I want to acknowledge the great work she does at Loreto college.

But I will talk about health and safety, because Labor does have a very, very proud history in this area. This bill will take another step towards doing what the opposition when in government could not do. They could not nationalise and harmonise occupational health and safety. This bill will do a lot to realise this. It is expected that this harmonisation will commence from 1 January 2012 and make many important changes to health and safety regulation. These changes include a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain conditions. This will empower employees to take responsibility for their safety and also motivate employers to maintain a high standard in workplace health and safety.

The primary duty of care will now be extended to persons conducting a business or undertaking. This will produce a broader sphere of protection that applies to all workers, not just employees. Because it should be clear that everyone deserves protection—whether they are hired labour, casual workers or full-time employees—this bill will go towards protecting them. These are very important changes not only for the protection of workers—even though we think that is the paramount importance of health and safety laws—but will also simplify things for businesses. They will take away a lot of red tape, especially if the businesses work across multi-sites in multi-jurisdictions.

This legislation has been talked about for a long time; it is something that will streamline the health and safety system and produce better outcomes for workers and for employers. We know it is the strategy of the opposition today to call quorums and it probably is because they do not see health and safety as an important thing for this House to deal with, but this side of the House does believe it is an incredibly important.

In addition the bill will include provisions to deal with issues specific to the Commonwealth. In particular, it will extend the application of work health and safety laws to members of the Defence Force and other persons deemed to be employees for the purposes of the current OH&S Act. It will enable the Chief of the Defence Force and Director-General of Security to disregard specific matters with the minister's agreement, which has not previously been required. The bill also establishes Comcare as the sole regulator of OH&S in the Commonwealth. This change to the current situation is unique to the Commonwealth, whereby Comcare and the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission have shared regulatory powers. This will simplify our health and safety system; it will ensure that responsibilities are clear; it will ensure that people, including contractors, employees of contractors, sub-contractors—I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired.)