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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 281

Senator LEWIS(3.47) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the paper.

I say at the outset, of course, that the Opposition recognises the importance of occupational health and safety. We deplore the loss of life and we recognise the economic cost of the problems of health and safety in occupations. We deplore the estimated cost of industrial accidents which is about $6 billion a year. On the other hand, we point out that these are matters for the States. They have the statutory responsibility for employers and factories and other work places. They have over 160 statutes covering occupational health and safety. It was assumed that the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission could perform the work of smaller bodies more effectively. I ask: Where is the evidence that it is doing so? I point out that the parliamentary appropriation for this body is now $18m a year. I wish Senator Walsh was here or listening to his radio so that he would know that this body is now costing $18m. What does it achieve which could not be achieved by direct interministerial and departmental contact between the Commonwealth and the States.

It seems to me that this Commission, which already has a staff of over 200, is a burgeoning bureaucracy. The following statement is made at page 17 of the report:

A firm base has been laid upon which to build co-operative effort.

To me that suggests that that body has growth ambitions. I point out, for example, that it has immediate access to international and other data bases. This is all set out on page 45 of the annual report. It seems to me difficult to understand why it should re-engage a senior staff member who was apparently on extended leave in the United States. I note that she was given six-months work in the United States to liaise with the United States and Canadian occupational health authorities. What sort of cost was that and what did it achieve? There is nothing in the report to suggest what it achieved. It is just reported that she was over there and that, while she was there, we used her for six months and gave her six months' pay. Yet the Commission has this access to these databases in its own very extensive computer network. It could have got the information from those databases because it has access to Dialog and ESA-IRS, which are United States data bases. I suggest to the Senate Estimates committee that it should carefully scrutinise this, together with the passing reference on page 50 of the report that staff have attended overseas conferences. The first thing we do when we create a bureaucracy is to send people overseas because they have to go overseas to attend these conferences and things, and that is all in the first six months of its operation.

I note the relatively brief references in the report to research that has been carried out. I accept that this is an important function, and it is clear that those working in this field are dedicated. But could this not have been equally carried out by purpose grants given to universities or State instrumentalities? I also support the grants and post-graduate scholarships, but I question whether there is a need for a commission to award those grants and post-graduate scholarships. Surely the Department could have done that.

Finally, if we look at page 50 of the report we see clearly that the Minister's decision to centralise the body in Sydney failed to take into account the lack of a suitable single site location. This has resulted in the location of administration in St Martin's Towers, with other accommodation scattered at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales and with further costs to come with the Commission's long term objectives of a single site location-all this simply to duplicate State functions.