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Monday, 13 October 2008
Page: 5840


Senator ABETZ (9:15 PM) —by leave—I indicate that the opposition opposes the bill in the following terms:

(2)    Clause 28, page 17 (line 24) to page 18 (line 24), subclauses (2) to (5), TO BE OPPOSED.

(3)    Clause 28, page 19 (lines 1 to 4), subclause 8, TO BE OPPOSED.

(4)    Clause 30, page 21 (lines 1 to 31), subclauses (2) to (5), TO BE OPPOSED.

(5)    Clause 30, page 22 (lines 8 to 11), subclause (8), TO BE OPPOSED.

(6)    Division 4, clauses 31 and 32, page 23 (line 1) to page 25(line 27), TO BE OPPOSED.

I thank the Senate and I would like to thank Senator Siewert for what is, in effect, the withdrawal of the Australian Greens amendment (2) because the wording and the intent is identical, as indicated in the notation to opposition amendment (6). The amendments that we are moving deal with clauses 28, which is the approval of the strategic plan, and 30, dealing with the approval of the draft plan, and then clauses 31 and 32, dealing with the ministerial council’s directions to alter the strategic plan and the ministerial council’s directions to alter the operational plan. As I indicated earlier, it seems to us in the opposition that in charging an organisation such as Safe Work Australia with what is a very onerous responsibility in reforming occupational health and safety law and this country it will be dealing with issues that are of genuine concern to all of us in this place. Undoubtedly we have all dealt with issues that are related to occupational health and safety. I remember, in my former life as a lawyer, dealing with the issue of an industrial death at what was then known as the ‘zinc works’ and now operated by Nyrstar. In acting for the widow of that worker I became aware of the impact that industrial deaths—and, indeed, injuries—have on families, extended families and the community, and, of course, the huge impact it has on the employer as well. It is something that we should pursue with as much vigour as we possibly can to ensure that we get the right sorts of outcomes.

Occupational health and safety has largely been a state government issue. It would be fair to say that in the last decade or so it has become an issue of greater and greater concern within the Australian community. As a result of that, the Howard government introduced some measures to try to harmonise the state laws and to ensure that we had a fair and appropriate set of laws. New South Wales went way over the top in relation to its legislation in that organisations can be fined and the money finds its way, as I understand it, into some within the trade union movement. It seems to me that those sorts of interferences within the state regimes by Labor operatives ultimately act to the detriment of sensible occupational health and safety standards in this country. But all that aside, more and more employers are now dealing with workers across state boundaries, or they are sending a worker from their home state into another state or territory for a particular job. Therefore it stands to reason that we should have standardised and harmonised legislation. That is why in general, and in principle, we support this legislation.

That is why a body such as Safe Work Australia—as we have now amended it to make it more representative of those that actually have skin in the game—should be listened to, and their views on the plans for the future strategic plans and operational plans should be listened to. To allow on top of that the ministerial council to amend and direct Safe Work Australia in relation to those plans potentially puts us back into the situation that we are trying to get away from—that is, the strangulation of the process by individual state governments that have other interests other than simply good occupational health and safety laws. It seems to me that providing this quite substantive power to the ministerial council in relation to the capacity to alter strategic plans and operational plans is not something that is warranted. That is why the opposition is moving these amendments, and we urge the Senate to support them.