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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 2146

Senator MARSHALL (Victoria) (16:44): I too rise to take note of the ministerial statement on workplace safety but primarily to respond to some of the comments that Senator Abetz has just made. I acknowledge that from his point of view he was very generous in acknowledging the fantastic work that trade unions have done over many decades to improve the health and safety of their members. That is one of the fundamental things that underpins trade unionism. Most of those benefits have only been achieved through the active involvement of workers, acting collectively through their trade unions to make those significant gains. Those gains ought to be held onto and they ought to be treated with enormous respect, because it is absolutely essential that every worker in this country has the opportunity to go home from work every day. They have a right to go home from work every day, not to be injured or killed at work.

Senator Abetz raises the issue because he sees a 'Red' under every bed or a trade union boss, as he calls them, lurking around every corner. He talked about occupational health and safety training and a particular case which he has raised at estimates time and time again as if it is some conspiracy of the trade union movement. I want to just set the record straight here. The Occupational Health and Safety Commission have determined that the appropriate delivery mode for occupational health and safety training is face-to-face training. That is a decision they came to. Even though people may have delivered it by other means in the past, it has been determined not by the trade unions and not by the government but by the Occupational Health and Safety Commission that face-to-face training, where people can engage with the trainer and workshop a whole range of issues, is the most appropriate and effective way to deliver occupational health and safety training. That is a decision that they have come to. Senator Abetz disagrees with that, and that is fine. He is allowed to disagree with that, and he disagrees with it regularly in the estimates process. But he should not dress that up as a conspiracy theory or say that trade unions hiding around every corner are responsible for somehow grabbing power as a result of decisions that were made, quite rightly in my view, by the Occupational Health and Safety Commission.

The other thing that Senator Abetz alluded to was using health and safety for actual industrial benefit. Again, I reject that and I know the government rejects it too. He talked about pending safe rates legislation. Let me read into Hansard the foreword to the committee report. The committee chair, the member for Hinkler Paul Neville, who last time I looked does not sit on the government side in the other chamber, said this:

Some times these vehicles are driven and maintained by people who have worked long hours, often through the night, and have had inadequate rest breaks. The longer they have worked, the more they have worked at night and the less they have rested, the greater the risk of fatigue. The more fatigue, the greater the risk of an accident occurring.

In the absence of measures to mitigate this risk, a lethal continuum is created. We frequently hear of accidents and incidents on roads, on railways, at sea and in the air where human fatigue is cited as a contributing factor.

The consequences of such accidents can be catastrophic and enduring. Individuals and families can be traumatised, communities scarred, environments damaged and businesses destroyed.

He has also said that there had been:

... a series of inquiries going back 10 or 11 years now, one of which I chaired, where we felt that the limits had already at that time being pushed to the point where drivers were not receiving fair reward ... Just to say that you do not think there has been any evidence and that there has been a small decrease in the number of heavy vehicle road fatalities—I do not think that establishes anything.

Mr Neville is exactly right. When drivers are not rested properly they are on the roads driving huge vehicles that weigh massive amounts, that cannot brake on a sixpence and that do not manoeuvre well. They are driving things that can kill people and themselves. We want people on the roads who are rested properly, who have the proper rest breaks and who are not forced into a position where they have to cut corners to make ends meet. Those issues then go to the way people are rewarded. To say that that undermines the ability of people with the motivation to make our roads safe is a misrepresentation of what the legislation is about. I know we are not debating that legislation here but I thought Senator Abetz's comments should not go unchallenged.

These things have at their core the health and safety of the workforce. So I will conclude with the point I made earlier: every worker in this country has an absolute right to go home from work. They have an absolute right to go home safely. They have an absolute right to go home healthy. They have an absolute right to be able to go home, to be alive and not to be killed at work.

Question agreed to.