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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4829

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (9:57 AM) —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—

Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 [N

I am pleased to reintroduce a Bill to establish Safe Work Australia as an independent national body whose role will be to improve occupational health and safety (OHS) outcomes and workers’ compensation arrangements across Australia.

This Bill is being reintroduced because I am obligated under an intergovernmental agreement to use my best endeavours to deliver Safe Work Australia in the same terms as the intergovernmental agreement.

The Bill is also being reintroduced to normalise the operational arrangements for Safe Work Australia and to establish these arrangements under statute.

In July 2008, for the first time in the history of our federation, governments from each State and Territory and the Commonwealth formally committed to the harmonisation of occupational health and safety legislation through an intergovernmental agreement.

The Intergovernmental Agreement for Regulatory and Operational Reform in Occupational Health and Safety commits the Commonwealth and all States and Territories to the adoption of the approved model legislation and, in a demonstration of the new spirit of cooperation, the agreement also provides that the body to progress the harmonisation of OHS and workers’ compensation arrangements, Safe Work Australia, will be jointly funded by the Commonwealth and the States and Territories.

The Government set itself the important task of creating a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary state duplications, overlaps and differences. OHS is a key area requiring regulatory reform.

Tragically, more than 260 Australians are killed each year at work. Many more die as a result of work-related disease. Each year over 135 000 Australians are seriously injured at work. The cost to our economy has been estimated at $57.5 billion per year. Obviously, the cost to those injured and to their families, workmates and friends is beyond measure.

As I have previously stated in the House, Safe Work Australia will be an inclusive, tripartite body comprised of 15 members, including an independent Chair, nine members representing the Commonwealth and each State and Territory, two members representing the interests of workers, two representing the interests of employers and the CEO. The members will be supported by the CEO and staff who together, will form a statutory agency under the Public Service Act. The body will be subject to Commonwealth governance regimes and will be a prescribed agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

Safe Work Australia will play a pivotal role in realising the Government’s commitment and the commitment of all State and Territory governments to work together to achieve harmonisation of OHS laws. It will have the important task of developing the model OHS Act, model regulations and model codes of practice for approval by Workplace Relations Ministers.

Safe Work Australia will also take forward the initiatives of the Commonwealth and the states and territories to streamline and harmonise workers’ compensation arrangements.

The Government sought to have this Bill passed last year but three times the Liberal Party proposed unacceptable amendments to this Bill. The Liberal Party stood firmly in the way of this crucial reform, reform which the business community has demanded of governments across the country for over two decades.

When I took the extraordinary step of laying this bill aside late last year I said that the Liberal Party were economic vandals. I do not retreat from that view. The Liberal Opposition continually stands in the way of this Government’s efforts to achieve a reform that will significantly advance a seamless national economy.

Why this economic vandalism? Is it because they talked about this reform for ten years but could never achieve it or is it simply because they just don’t understand the magnitude of the risk that the global recession presents to Australia’s economic well being.

In the face of this opposition the Government has not been idle. The important task of harmonising OHS has continued. With my state and territory colleagues on the Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council, we have administratively established the Safe Work Australia Council and have asked the Council to commence drafting the model OHS legislation.

Despite the default position of the Opposition to oppose all Government efforts to improve Australia’s productivity and to assist the economy, we are still on track to deliver uniform OHS legislation by the end of 2011.

States, Territories, employers, workers and their families understand the importance of a single OHS system for Australia. They understand that the reform of OHS and workers’ compensation is too important to be stymied by the Opposition any longer. They understand that workers’ lives and the efficiency of our economy are at stake.

OHS and workers’ compensation reform will increase profitability and productivity and better protect the lives and health of Australians. This reform is clearly good for business, good for workers, and importantly good for the national economy when every ounce of effort by Australian businesses and workers is vitally important.

Veterans’ Affairs Legislation Amendment (Budget Measures) Bill 2009

I am pleased to present legislation that further improves the operation of Australia’s repatriation system. This is in line with the Government’s election commitment, demonstrated in successive budgets, to deliver better services and benefits to the ex-service community in Australia.

This Bill will introduce two Budget measures that will assist veterans, members and their dependants and improve the effectiveness of the Repatriation pension system. A third measure will assist members of the veteran and defence communities.

The first Budget measure will provide more convenient payment arrangements for Australian veterans, members and dependants who live permanently overseas.

Currently Veterans’ Affairs beneficiaries who live permanently overseas must have their Veterans’ Affairs payments paid into an Australian Bank account, often incurring relatively high bank fees when transferring money internationally. In comparison, most other Commonwealth beneficiaries who live in overseas countries with reliable banking systems can receive their pension directly into an overseas bank account. In 2008 the Prime Minister made a commitment to review this inequity for members of the Australian veteran community living overseas. This Budget measure will deliver on that commitment.

The second Budget measure will extend eligibility for the Defence Services Homes Insurance Scheme to persons eligible under the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme Act 2008. The Defence Service Homes Insurance Scheme currently provides home insurance to eligible Australian veterans and members, peacekeepers and widows and widowers. This measure will extend eligibility for Defence Service Homes Insurance to those serving and former members and reservists eligible under the Defence Home Ownership Assistance Scheme, introduced in 2008. This extension will provide eligible persons with access to cost-effective insurance designed specifically for the service and ex-service community.

The final Budget measure will cease payment of an outdated dependants’ pension and will pay existing pension recipients a lump sum payment, equivalent to three years of pension.

Under previous Repatriation legislation, certain dependents of veterans or members on disability pensions were eligible for a dependants’ pension, at a rate which reflected the rate of disability pension paid to the veteran or member. The maximum fortnightly payments are $8.42 for partners and widows and $2.86 for children. The minimum payments are 84 cents and 29 cents respectively. This small pension has been virtually frozen for many decades and new grants of the pension ceased in 1985.

The purpose of the payment when it was introduced was to provide financial support to the dependents of veterans. Other Government programs, such as the partner service pension and social security payments, now provide this support more effectively.

The Government will pay a one-off payment equivalent to three years of payments to current recipients. Entitlement to the dependants’ pension will cease on 22 September 2009. We anticipate the lump sum payment will be made on 24 September 2009. The lump sum payment will be exempt from income tax. It should be noted that dependants’ pensions that were granted on the basis that the person was without adequate means of support are not part of this measure. I also want to make it quite clear that existing war widow and widower and orphan pensions are not affected by this measure.

With a pension of such relatively low amount, the value of which will continue to erode over time, a three year lump sum payment will be of greater use to many current recipients.

The Government is committed to maintaining and enhancing services and support to Australia’s ex-service community. This legislation continues the progression we have made since coming to government to ensure that the support available through the Veterans’ Affairs portfolio is effective and equitable.

Debate (on motion by Senator Ludwig) adjourned.

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