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Monday, 22 September 2008
Page: 8033

Mr HAYES (12:02 PM) —I rise to speak in continuation on the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 and a related bill. As I was saying before the debate was adjourned last week, this is a critical first step in the direction of improving safety outcomes for workers and workers compensation arrangements across Australia. I have recently had the opportunity to talk to Geoff Fary from the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Tony Sheldon from the Transport Workers Union of Australia and Phil Hazelton from the Australian Miscellaneous Workers Union about their position on the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008. I have spoken to others but the people I have just mentioned came to talk to me about it. In speaking to them at length about this bill and about, more importantly, the statistics that underlie the concerns over safety in our workplaces, I noted they all raised significant concerns. They all support the notion of this bill as a step in the right direction. However, I should make it clear that what they said was not without some reservations. They did have some residual concerns about the bill’s administrative make-up, in particular the number of employee representatives to be on the board of the new Safe Work Australia.

The establishment of Safe Work Australia is only one part of the government’s strategy. We have taken this issue seriously and we have acted by moving quickly on it. Since coming to office in November, this government has undertaken a review of the Comcare scheme and has set up an independent panel of experts to conduct a national occupational health and safety review, which is currently well underway, to examine public submissions on the optimal structure and content of an OH&S model. Notably, the first report of that group will be presented to the Workplace Relations Ministers Council on 31 October this year. A second report is due at the end of January next year. The group has developed a landmark intergovernmental agreement with our state and territory colleagues to harmonise occupational health and safety legislation across the nation. Together with the intergovernmental agree-ment for regulatory and operational reform of occupational health and safety, agreed by the Council of Australian Governments on 3 July this year, this ushers in a new partnership that I believe will advance the health and safety of workers across the nation and reduce the complexity of regulation for the many businesses affected.

Safe Work Australia will be an independent reform-focused national body with an inclusive tripartite membership that will operate under the Commonwealth government’s accountability and governance framework. It will consist of 15 members—nine members from government, an independent chair, two members representing employees, two members representing employers and a CEO. Safe Work Australia will replace the Australian Safety and Compensation Council, which was set up under the former Howard government as an advisory council with limited powers and limited functions and was effectively contained to coordinating, monitoring and promoting national efforts in respect of occupational health and safety issues.

In contrast, Safe Work Australia will develop national policy relating to OH&S and workers compensation; prepare, monitor and advise as to model OH&S legislation and model codes of conduct to apply throughout the nation; develop a compliance and enforcement policy to ensure that a nationally consistent regulatory approach across all jurisdictions is maintained; develop proposals relating to the harmonisation of workers compensation arrangements; collect, analyse and publish OH&S and workers compensation data; and collect and publish statistics. It will drive a national communications strategy to raise awareness of OH&S in the workplace. It will further develop the National Occupational Health and Safety Strategy 2002-2012 and advise the Workplace Relations Ministers Council on OH&S and workers compensation matters. These are very much the key functions of this new body which has now been established. They reaffirm the Rudd Labor government’s strong commitment to safe workplaces and the protection of workers.

The introduction of Safe Work Australia will play a pivotal role in realising the shared commitment of the Commonwealth and all states and territory governments to work together in advancing OH&S outcomes and achieving harmonisation of OH&S laws. It should not pass without noting that this is the first time in the history of the Federation that we have formally committed to OH&S taking on an intergovernmental agreement with a view to harmonising arrangements throughout the Commonwealth, states and territories. This is something very good for working Australians. It is something very good for the businesses of working Australians—businesses that need to have some regulatory relief. The complex regulations that currently exist and apply in individual states and territories can, as a result of this legislation, be brought under a harmonised model where there will be consistent arrangements which will apply across all workplaces in the country. (Time expired)