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Thursday, 8 December 2005
Page: 133


Senator COLBECK (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) (6:14 PM) —I move:

That these bills be now read a second time.

I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speeches read as follows—

ANGLO-AUSTRALIAN TELESCOPE AGREE-MENT AMENDMENT BILL 2005

I am pleased to announce that the United Kingdom and Australian Governments have agreed to a Supplementary Agreement to the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement.

This Bill amends the Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement Act 1970 to incorporate the Supplementary Agreement.

The original Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement signed on 25 September 1969 began a major scientific collaboration between Australia and the United Kingdom. In the early 1970’s the Anglo-Australian Telescope was constructed at Siding Springs near Coonabarabran in New South Wales. With a mirror diameter of 3.9 metres and state-of-the-art design it was then one of the largest and most sophisticated optical telescopes in existence.

Over the ensuring 35 years the Anglo-Australian Telescope has made a significant contribution to astronomy, both in Australia and internationally.

Even today the Anglo-Australian Telescope remains one of the most productive major telescopes in the world, particularly amongst the 4m class of telescope. Recent scientific highlights include the discovery of “cosmic ripples” which help explain why the universe is as lumpy as it is, the discovery of the 100th extra-solar planet and the discovery of a new type of ultra-compact dwarf galaxy.

In 2001 the United Kingdom Government advised that it wanted to end its involvement with the Anglo-Australian Telescope. Under the current Anglo-Australian Telescope Agreement, either party has the right to terminate the Agreement with five years notice.

Rather than terminating the Agreement in 2006, however, Australia and the United Kingdom agreed to extend the collaboration until 2010 under arrangements that allow the United Kingdom Government to gradually reduce its funding commitment.

The extension of Anglo-Australian collaboration is a most welcome development. It has, I believe, played an important part in the development of Australian astronomy into one of our premier research disciplines. It is a discipline that brings much international recognition to our scientific and technological capacity.

The United Kingdom Government has also agreed, under the Supplementary Agreement, to gift its half of the Anglo-Australian Telescope and the associated facilities to Australia in July 2010. The Anglo-Australian Telescope will remain a valuable scientific and educational tool for Australia for many years to come.

The Supplementary Agreement makes a number of amendments to the original Agreement in order to facilitate the gradual phasing out of United Kingdom involvement.

It provides that observing time is to be allocated according to the financial contribution of each country, rather than shared equally as at present.

It explicitly allows for the Anglo-Australian Telescope Board, the bi-national body that operates the Anglo-Australian Telescope, more scope for earning external income. Associated with the Anglo-Australian Telescope is one of the most advanced and innovative astronomical instrument laboratories in the world. It has produced, and is producing, major instruments both for the Anglo-Australian Telescope and for large overseas telescopes such as the Japanese Subaru Telescope in Hawaii.

The Supplementary Agreement now allows each country to determine the level of its contribution, above that minimum level, independently of the other. While the primary reason for this change is to allow the gradual withdrawal of United Kingdom funding, it also gives Australia greater flexibility in determining its contribution.

Full details of the measures in the Bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum circulated to honourable Senators.

I commend the Bill to the Senate.


OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH AND SAFETY (COMMONWEALTH EMPLOYMENT) AMENDMENT (PROMOTING SAFER WORKPLACES) BILL 2005

The amendments in this Bill will reinforce and underscore the Commonwealth’s regulatory approach to workplace health and safety which is to ensure that the main focus should be on preventing workplace injuries, rather than punishment after the event. 

On 1 March 2004, a new Part 2A of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Crimes Act 1900 came into operation. This Part contains two new criminal offences of industrial manslaughter: one for employers and one for senior officers. The ACT law imposes a criminal liability on employers and senior officers after the death of a worker. This is inconsistent with the overall objective of an occupational health and safety legislative framework which is to prevent workplace deaths and injuries It is also contrary to the unified and integrated OHS legislative system established under the internationally recognised Robens model which all Australian jurisdictions have adopted, including the ACT.

The Bill would amend the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 to insert a new section 11A. This new section would provide that Part 2A of the ACT Crimes Act and any other similar industrial manslaughter laws which might be enacted by a State or Territory and that are prescribed in the regulations will have no effect to the extent to which they seek to impose criminal liability on an employer, employing authority or employee covered by the Act in respect of a person’s death that occurs during, or in relation to, the person’s employment or provision of services to another person.

Without the criteria of prescribing other State and Territory laws, the new section could catch general criminal offences, such as manslaughter, murder and culpable driving. This would include, for example, the offence of manslaughter in section 15 of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT). However, it is not the Commonwealth’s intention to exclude employers, employing authorities or employees from the application of these general criminal laws. Similarly, the Commonwealth does not intend to affect the concurrent operation of State or Territory laws which promote occupational health and safety provided for in section 4 of the Act. 

The Commonwealth only objects to a specific type of State and Territory laws which purport to impose criminal liability in respect of a person’s death that occurs during, or in relation to, the person’s employment or provision of services to another person—that is laws like Part 2A of the Crimes Act 1900 (ACT). Only these particular types of laws would be prescribed under the new section 11A. 

The Bill will apply to any conduct of a Commonwealth employer, employing authority or employee occurring on or after 1 March 2004, the day on which the ACT industrial manslaughter laws commenced. 

The Bill will remove the uncertainty facing some Commonwealth employers and employees that has arisen from the ACT legislation. The amendments contained in this Bill will also provide certainty for Commonwealth employers and employees should other Australian jurisdictions enact similar industrial manslaughter legislation.

Workplace health and safety is an important issue for all Australians. The promotion of injury prevention and the best occupational health and safety practice is a key priority of the Australian Government. The Government has demonstrated this commitment by initiating the development of the National OHS Strategy and encouraging its adoption by all Australian governments and peak employer and employees bodies. For the first time in Australia, this Strategy establishes an integrated approach to strive for workplaces free from work-related death, injury and disease. In particular, targets have been set for significant reductions in the rate of work-related deaths and injuries.

The Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment) Act 1991 is the legislative basis for the protection of the health and safety at work of Commonwealth employees in departments, statutory authorities and government business enterprises. The principles underpinning the Act emphasise that workplace health and safety is a partnership between all parties in the workplace, with a particular focus on prevention.

The Government’s commitment to prevention of workplace injuries and deaths is demonstrated by amendments to the Act in 2004. These amendments ensure that obligations in the Act are underpinned by a strong and effective compliance and enforcement regime. They provide for a mix of preventative, remedial and punitive civil and criminal sanctions, including higher penalty levels, to assist all parties meet their workplace health and safety obligations and provide appropriate sanctions where these obligations are not met. This is the best way to improve workplace safety.

Industrial manslaughter laws, on the other hand, place employers and employees in an adversarial environment and create a culture of blame. This inhibits their ability to work together to eliminate workplace safety hazards and prevent the unwanted consequence of endangering workplace safety. When the tragedy of a workplace death occurs, all parties need to be able to work cooperatively to understand why it happened so that it will not happen again.

The ACT legislation singles out employers for punishment after a death. The legislation neglects the potential involvement of a range of other parties such as other employees, manufacturers, and suppliers of plant and equipment. This creates inequities and gaps in attributing responsibility in the unacceptable event of a workplace fatality or serious injury, and wrongly presumes that employers are solely responsible for all workplace injuries and deaths.

The ACT industrial manslaughter legislation also duplicates the existing offences already available under the ACT Crimes Act and ACT OHS legislation to deal with the involvement of employers and employees in workplace deaths or serious injuries.

This Bill reflects the Government’s commitment to achieving safer workplaces and ensures the focus of occupational health and safety is on prevention of a workplace injury or fatality rather than punishment after the event.

Ordered that further consideration of these bills be adjourned to the first day of the next period of sittings, in accordance with standing order 111.

Ordered that the bills be listed on the Notice Paper as separate orders of the day.