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Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee
17/10/2012
Estimates
EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS PORTFOLIO
Safe Work Australia

Safe Work Australia

CHAIR: Mr Hoy, thank you for your appearance today. I invite you to make any opening remarks to the committee if you wish.

Mr Hoy : I do not have any opening remarks, thank you.

Senator EDWARDS: Mr Hoy, in the context of all employers being legally responsible for providing a safe workplace and that they can be subject to criminal prosecution if they do not, I refer to the draft code of practice for preventing and managing fatigue in the workplace. It is my understanding that this code of practice is looking to be finalised early next year. Is that right?

Mr Hoy : Yes, that is correct—in 2013.

Senator EDWARDS: Early next year?

Mr Hoy : There is no specific timing on it, but it is one of a number of codes that were not part of the harmonisation process and so it is in the 2013 group.

Senator EDWARDS: Are you still taking submissions from all stakeholders?

Mr Hoy : No. We had a public comment period which we can give you the details of in a moment. What we are now doing is revising that with some advice. We will need to do a regulation impact statement on the document. Depending upon whether or not it is substantially revised, we will determine if it goes out for further comment.

Senator EDWARDS: What would be the trigger for going out for further comment?

Mr Hoy : It depends on whether the final document is substantially different to the current document. As part of doing a regulation impact assessment, there needs to be a consultation regulation impact document as well, which also needs to be released.

Senator EDWARDS: Are you aware or have you had submissions that assert that this is turning employers into the 'yawn police'?

Mr Hoy : I will check this and I can be corrected, but I do not think there have been submissions to that effect. There were certainly newspaper reports on it, which is no doubt what you are referring to, but they misconstrue what the document is. I do not think they actually read the document.

Senator EDWARDS: I have read the document and the draft code has proposed that 'employers eliminate or reduce the need to work extended hours or overtime' so that staff do not get too tired. It is fairly obvious that that would be everybody's wish. It also states that 'safety critical tasks' such as administering drugs, driving trucks or electrical work should not be performed in the post-lunch period—they call it the 'low body clock period'. That would be the period we are in right now, wouldn't it be?

Mr Hoy : Yes.

Senator EDWARDS: Is everybody functioning okay?

Mr Hoy : I am functioning okay, thank you.

Senator Jacinta Collins: I do not think you can necessarily use our day as an analogy.

Senator EDWARDS: Also in the document it suggests that rosters should be drawn up to accommodate workers' social lives. It says:

If a worker leaves their job tired and exhausted they may be less able to enjoy out of work activities or could be a danger to themselves and others in the community.

Likewise, if a worker arrives at work unfit for duty due to a lack of sleep, illness or other condition, they may be less productive or could be a danger to themselves and others in the workplace.

You have had no comment on that? Is there not a theme emerging about this? Are we going to go and live in people's lounge rooms or bedrooms?

Mr Hoy : No, we are not. I will ask one of my colleagues to give you some advice on what the public comment was.

Ms Collins : We got approximately 60 public comments and submissions on the code. This was last year. It closed in, I think, December last year. Most of the comments were clearly around providing more industry specific guidance. This code is based on existing guidance material that is already in jurisdictions, so it does not place any new obligations on employers that do not already exist. The code has to be read in context. The sections you are referring to are really about the work-life balance. There is no requirement for employers to design their rosters around workers' social lives. What the code is trying to say is that there is a duty on both employers and workers to manage fatigue. The code does make quite clear that workers also have a duty in relation to that. It leads on to training workers about the impact that fatigue can have on their work and that lifestyle factors are one of those matters that need to be looked at.

Employers can develop policies about fatigue. They can provide education to their workers about lifestyle factors and their workers will have to comply with those policies.

Senator EDWARDS: So you want industry to pay and the code actually says, 'Employers should train workers in balancing work and personal lifestyle demands.' Is it now the responsibility of employers in this country to educate people to turn up to work in a fit condition to work?

Mr Hoy : Senator, can I be clear that that is a draft document; it is not a code of practice.

Senator EDWARDS: Who wrote it?

Mr Hoy : It was prepared through our tripartite processes.

Senator EDWARDS: Tripartite processes?

Mr Hoy : Yes. As Ms Collins mentioned, it is based on existing guidance material in the jurisdictions. Our process is that a document is developed, it is put through Safe Work Australia, which has representatives—

Senator EDWARDS: How much does it cost?

Mr Hoy : Cost to do what?

Senator EDWARDS: To produce a draft code of practice for preventing and managing fatigue in the workplace?

Mr Hoy : We would not have the details to answer that question. That is one of a number of codes we have been developing as part of this process.

Senator EDWARDS: Even unions have criticised this code. The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union complain that the fatigue checklist is 'not very helpful'.

Mr Hoy : Yes, and in the light of the public comment, we are revising the code.

Senator EDWARDS: You are trying to balance a budget as a government and you are producing documents which we have just seen clearly—

CHAIR: Mr Hoy is not representing the government.

Senator ABETZ: But Senator Collins is.

CHAIR: I thought he was asking about the code.

Senator EDWARDS: I would be very interested to know because you have already flagged—perhaps I am drawing too much of an inference, Mr Hoy—that the code is a draft document and is going to be severely adjusted.

Senator ABETZ: We hope.

Senator EDWARDS: We would hope. Just what cost is this process to the country, all these processes? How many codes of practice do you have currently under review?

Ms Collins : By the time we have completed we will have 40 codes of practice. We still have a number to go through our approval processes that we have published 23 codes.

Senator EDWARDS: Do you have any idea what the budget is for these 40 codes of practice?

Mr Hoy : No, we do not specifically have that detail and it would be very difficult to estimate. I can tell you what the budget for Safe Work Australia is but we would not go down to the level of determining that sort of detail.

Senator EDWARDS: It would appear that all stakeholders on this particular code of practice are pretty much in unison and you indicated that a lot of it might come under review.

Mr Hoy : I have said the whole draft document is under review—it is a draft.

Senator ABETZ: But it must be somebody's work that they thought was worthy of putting out for public discussion.

Mr Hoy : We have explained to the committee before that this is a harmonisation process. We base this on looking at existing material in all the jurisdictions in Australia and that is what we have produced. This was one of a number of different documents that drew on material in the jurisdictions.

Senator ABETZ: That does not make it right.

Mr Hoy : I accept what you are saying.

Senator EDWARDS: As is the case under previous legislation, it is not a requirement to follow a code of practice, but compliance is admissible in court proceedings as evidence. The difficulty at the moment is determining relevant codes of practice and you are trying to develop these like the legislation. Each state will then determine whether to adopt a harmonised code of practice. So it is sort of the code of practice you are having when you are not having a code of practice, if you interpret it in the state—is that right, a clayton's code of practice?

Mr Hoy : It well might be that that document ends up as guidance as distinct from the code. That needs to be determined and then it is up to the jurisdictions as to whether or not they adopt it as a code of practice.

Senator EDWARDS: As best as you possibly can, Mr Hoy, would you be able to take notice what you would estimate the cost to be of producing this code of practice and then an overall figure for the 40 codes of practice which might be subject to the same kind of treatment, I would suspect?

Mr Hoy : I will take it on notice but I foreshadow it will be very difficult to estimate that.

Senator EDWARDS: That is all right. Come back in February.

CHAIR: I will be here.

Senator EDWARDS: That is a brave promise.

CHAIR: I know. I am pretty sure.

Senator ABETZ: I welcome representatives of Safe Work Australia and draw their attention to a media release of Thursday, 11 October, from the Victorian minister Gordon Rich-Phillips. In it, he made reference to 'preliminary figures released by the Commonwealth agency Safe Work Australia in its annual comparative performance monitoring report'. Is it correct that it reports that Tasmania has the worst workplace results or annual injury rate?

Mr Hoy : I know that the press release the Victorian minister put out was based on the 14th edition of the comparative performance monitoring report.

Senator ABETZ: Does it say that Tasmania has the worst—

Mr Hoy : If you look at the overall incidence rate of serious injury and disease claims in Australia, the worst performing jurisdiction is Seacare with 41.8.

Senator ABETZ: I am sorry?

Mr Hoy : Seacare—that is the Commonwealth body looking after seafarers. Tasmania is 15.6. This is incident-grade claims per 1,000 employees—

Senator ABETZ: Amongst the states, Tasmania is the worst.

Mr Hoy : Yes, the Australian average, just for your information, is 12.2.

Senator ABETZ: Out of the states and territories, Tasmania is the worst. Were they right to boast that Victoria were in fact the best?

Mr Hoy : In terms of this specific indicator, they are a nine. The average is 12.2 and the best is actually the Australian government at 7.4.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but the Australian government is not a state.

Mr Hoy : Yes, but that covers the Commonwealth.

Senator ABETZ: Victoria has the lowest workers compensation premiums—are you aware of that or not?

Mr Hoy : That is correct as well.

Senator ABETZ: With all these various codes and codes of practice, are we going to have a code of practice relating to political correctness or not?

Mr Hoy : No.

Senator ABETZ: No? Good. So we will still be able to use terms such as 'fireman' and 'secretary' in the future? One would hope so.

Mr Hoy : I cannot comment on that. That is not in my jurisdiction.

Senator ABETZ: Of course not. Do you have any involvement in, or jurisdiction in relation to, matters asbestos.

Mr Hoy : Can I just be clear what area you are talking about?

Senator ABETZ: Asbestos generally and the serious health issues which arise from coming into contact with asbestos.

Mr Hoy : Yes, we have been involved in asbestos regulations. We have also been involved in managing the Australian Mesothelioma Registry.

Senator ABETZ: The Motor Trade Association of South Australia has informed me that we are allowing the importation of vehicles from China with compartments containing asbestos. Has that been drawn to your attention?

Mr Hoy : Not specifically, no. But we would not get involved in that sort of importation aspect. That would be a matter for Customs, perhaps, and other Commonwealth authorities.

Senator ABETZ: It would be a matter for them to actually police and determine. But would you, in your role, have it within your capacity to make representations, let's say, to Customs that this unit, this vehicle contains asbestos? The bizarre thing is that Australian car makers are not allowed to use asbestos, but it can be used in the Chinese imported ones.

There is a real safety issue there, especially if people start engaging in their own mechanical work without realising the danger of the asbestos gaskets.

Mr Hoy : That issue would be a matter for the relevant jurisdiction—I imagine it would be South Australia. They have links with calls agencies like the Customs department. I think we have explained before that we are a policy body; we do not get involved in regulation. If somebody actually rang me up and alerted me to this I probably would ring up the relevant Commonwealth area, but it is not really our role—my role—to be policing it.

Senator ABETZ: I fully accept that. I was not wanting to traverse into that area but whether you had, if you like, a gratuitous advisory role—I do not know if that is a correct expression. If you come across something of this nature you are able to pick up the phone and alert another authority to the fact that this could potentially be a health risk for not only employed workers but also the home mechanic who might be seeking to change gaskets.

Mr Hoy : Yes, I would.

Senator ABETZ: Now that you know!

Mr Hoy : I will go and make some inquiries. I think the other comment to make is that our responsibilities extend only to work; they do not extend to nonwork areas. There is an issue about how far we get involved in what is happening in the home.

Senator ABETZ: Yes, but we are all Australians and I am sure we would seek to protect all Australians from exposure to asbestos, and even if it does not fit tightly within the jurisdiction I am sure a phone call would not go astray. One assumes that the motor traders and others have alerted the relevant government authorities to that issue in any event.

Senator Jacinta Collins: I do have some further information for you beyond Safe Work Australia. Would you like it now?

Senator ABETZ: Yes.

Senator Jacinta Collins: With respect to the discovery of asbestos in certain gaskets in some Great Wall and Cherry vehicles, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has issued a product recall of the gaskets. This recall was negotiated with suppliers and will be monitored by the ACCC. The Heads of Workplace Safety Authorities group is working to address the ongoing incidence of the inadvertent importation of asbestos-containing goods, and all jurisdictions are encouraged to work together to reach an effective outcome of the issue.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that. Mr Hoy, this heads of—

Mr Hoy : They are all the relevant regulators at the state and federal level.

Senator ABETZ: Where does Safe Work Australia fit in?

Mr Hoy : I am an observer on HWSA, but I do not recall that being raised in recent times.

Senator ABETZ: A new agency in relation to matters asbestos is about to be established. Whereabouts is that going to fit into our program?

Senator Jacinta Collins: That will be tonight, with the department, I think.

Senator ABETZ: That is for tonight, but in the future it will be a separate agency will it?

Senator Jacinta Collins: I think you are better waiting for this evening on that. They will also be able to deal with where the government is in terms of the response to the Asbestos Management Review more broadly.

Senator ABETZ: As I understand it, Safe Work Australia is a cooperative, to use that term—what is the term between the states and the Commonwealth?

Mr Hoy : We are a cooperative tripartite body.

Senator ABETZ: Would there be any reason why this cooperative tripartite body could not actually undertake the role of the new asbestos body if your terms of reference or charter were appropriately altered? You are dealing with all state governments; you are dealing with the Commonwealth government employers and employees. To me it would seem to be a natural fit. I understand that it is a policy decision for government, so I do not want to canvass that with you, but would there be any practical reasons why Safe Work Australia could not be the administrative body handling these matters?

Mr Hoy : There is a legislative reason, because our act relates to matters at work, and the asbestos management role will extend well beyond work, as I understand it.

Senator ABETZ: So there is no real practical issue here; it is a legislative issue—which, with an appropriate legislative amendment, could be overcome.

Mr Hoy : Yes, but I think you are aware that we were established pursuant to an intergovernmental agreement and we are co-funded by the Commonwealth and the states and territories through that agreement. The governments would need to revisit that intergovernmental agreement, including the funding levels, because I could not take on this sort of responsibility under the existing arrangements, legislative and resource wise.

Senator ABETZ: Because you are so busy making sure people get enough sleep under their codes of practice! I move on to another code of practice, the one relating to bullying. How are we going with that one?

Mr Hoy : I think we explained the status of that at the last estimates hearing. We had revised an earlier version of that code. It was considered by Safe Work Australia. I can give you the date, but I would need to check that—

Senator ABETZ: If you can take that on notice, please.

Mr Hoy : It was 26, 27 July. They decided at that meeting to await the outcome of the House of Representatives committee inquiry before finalising that code. So it is still at that draft status.

Senator ABETZ: So, basically, nothing more to report since last estimates?

Mr Hoy : In terms of the process of that code, no—similar to a code we were discussing earlier with Senator Edwards; we explained previously that there would need to be a regulation impact analysis on that one as well. So that is also in the 2013 bundle.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you. Are you aware of the comment by a principal of the legal firm Morris Blackburn—whom I would not normally be quoting—that criminalising workplace bullying will not work? From a policy point of view, do you have any comment that you would seek to offer in relation to that?

Mr Hoy : I read those comments. But, as we submitted to that inquiry—and our submission, I think, has been published—bullying is a serious problem. We think it should be dealt with in a similar way to physical hazards. Health includes mental health as well. We also acknowledged that in extreme cases it might be appropriate to deal with matters under criminal law. We were proposing to the committee that it would assist to have a definition of bullying, because there are various definitions. We also submitted that it would be appropriate to have a code of practice, and as you know we have produced a draft code of practice. I provided that draft to the committee but I said, 'The status of this is that it's only a draft; it has not been finalised.'

Senator ABETZ: And the definition of 'bullying'? Are we satisfied with that?

Mr Hoy : We included in there a definition, which I am sure my colleague will happy to provide to you, but a number of other people had different definitions.

Senator ABETZ: Yes. The huge increase in bullying complaints: do we put that down to the fact that there are more occasions of bullying or is it because more people are now reporting it?

Mr Hoy : Sorry, Senator; which data are you referring to? The Public Service Commission made a submission to the committee as well and provided information. I do not have in front of me national data on that.

Senator ABETZ: I would have thought, if you are the policy area, that you might have known that it is generally accepted that there has been an increase in bullying. But, if you need a source, 'Rise in bullying claims threatens productivity' from the Australian on 9 August states:

The yearly costs of dealing with the claims in the 166,495-strong public service has surged from $27.4 million to $46.3m over the past three years, Comcare reports.

Now, I trust we can move on on the basis that we accept that there are more bullying claims being made. Can we do that?

Mr Hoy : I think you should ask Comcare or the Public Service Commission about that. I am aware of those figures. I would not use the Australian as a source of any data.

Senator ABETZ: What about Comcare? I just quoted Comcare out of the Australian­­,so let's be careful about the gratuitous comments.

Mr Hoy : I said you should pursue that with Comcare.

CHAIR: I think it is fair not to rely on the Australian newspaper as a source of information.

Senator ABETZ: I know; it is the hate media! Let's move on. Let's try then the Fairfax media, if that is more acceptable to the politically correct in the group. The Australian Financial Review on 15 August had the heading, 'New approach urged for work bullies'—under pressure, accepted stress claim, citing bullying as the cause. If I am reading this correctly—and I cannot read it, unfortunately—there is a study here from the Law Institute of Victoria and others which indicates that there is an increased incidence of bullying being reported. If we cannot even agree on that, then I dare say we cannot ask any further questions, but I would have thought that most people accept that there has been an increase in bullying being reported in workplaces, and I am very disappointed that Safe Work Australia is not aware of that.

Mr Hoy : I did not say I was not aware of it. You were actually asking me about figures being quoted in a newspaper. I was asking you what the source was.

Senator ABETZ: No. I asked you straight out whether it was accepted. It would be a bit like asking, 'Is the sky blue?' and getting the answer, 'Excuse me; what is your source for saying that the sky is blue?' when—

Mr Hoy : It is accepted that there has been an increase in bullying, yes.

Senator ABETZ: believe it or not, I might not actually have an immediate source.

CHAIR: I do not think that is a particularly relevant example. Let's get back to questions.

Senator ABETZ: Do we accept that reported cases of bullying are on the increase in Australia?

Mr Hoy : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: Right. Now that we have established that there is an increase in reports of bullying at the workplace, can we then ask the question: do we believe that is because the incidence of bullying is increasing or because more people are reporting that which has been occurring before but has not been so reported?

Mr Hoy : I will get Ms Grey to talk about this.

Ms Grey : I will just start by saying that, yes, bullying is increasing. We collect compensation data, so from our perspective we cannot make a judgement about why the number of people seeking compensation is increasing. But I will say that there are 300,000 claims, and the proportion of claims that are for bullying are still a very small proportion of workers compensation claims.

Senator ABETZ: Are you able to give us a percentage?

Ms Grey : I can give you the whole report if you like, which is from the CPM, which includes that data. I do not have it to hand, but I am happy to provide that to you.

Senator ABETZ: If you could, via the secretariat, in due course.

Ms Grey : Yes, absolutely.

Mr Hoy : It is actually on our website.

Ms Grey : But I am happy to provide it to you in hard copy now.

Senator ABETZ: Excellent.

Mr Hoy : It is published on the website.

Ms Grey : So they are a small proportion. The way that we collect the data is from the jurisdictions, and the way that each jurisdiction codes mental stress, which includes bullying, differs, so it is quite difficult to express the trend reason behind why claims might be going up. In some jurisdictions it can be linked to advertising campaigns or to incidents in the media that increase people's knowledge of workplace bullying, and they seek compensation. There are lots of reasons too that may explain it.

Senator ABETZ: Thank you for that. So these figures are based on varying definitions of bullying?

Ms Grey : In our instance, it is varying coding of the mechanism.

Senator ABETZ: Do we have any information available to us as to whether the bullying is taking place, if you like, on the horizontal level in the workplace, or vertically down or up? Do we have any understanding of who undertakes the bullying?

Ms Grey : We have conducted research into that through survey mechanisms which we have provided to the bullying inquiry.

Senator ABETZ: Is it fair to say that the majority of bullying that occurs in the workplace is, in fact, between peers on a similar level?

Ms Grey : I do not know if that is fair to say. I would have to have a closer look at the report and provide an answer to you on notice.

Senator ABETZ: If you could do that and give us your analysis of that that would be very helpful. Management bullying of employees, one would imagine, is an area over which management should and needs to have absolute control. But some of the subtle bullying that takes place, such as in the typing pool in the old days, or the occasion of some Commonwealth public servants having a brawl in Canberra about who was first in the coffee line, is ugly and should not occur et cetera. But how do you, as an employer, seek to control that? It is, I suppose, an issue that I personally would like to get a better grasp of. If you could supply the information that you indicated earlier, that would be very helpful.

Have you seen an article in the Melbourne Age—I am sure that is much more to the chair's liking—

CHAIR: It is not, actually.

Senator ABETZ: No? All right. On 10 July, a Ms Rayner said:

We have to make employers acutely aware that they will pay heavily if they do not run their workplaces so that bullying is outed and dealt with at the earliest possible stage, without any victim having to make a complaint.

That is nice in theory, but do we have any idea how such a regime might actually work? Are we going to have bullying observers in every workplace to observe everybody to ascertain whether there is a hint of bullying starting? If we are going to have a regime where it will not require somebody to make a complaint, I would have thought it would lead to a very fraught situation, Ms Collins.

Ms Collins : Our code does advocate a risk management approach in the same way that you would deal with other workplace hazards and try to prevent them happening instead of waiting until you have complaints. It provides advice on looking at various risk factors. But looking at the complaints and reports of bullying is obviously something that you cannot ignore. Our code talks about looking at systems of work, looking at the way work is organised and providing training to employees about what bullying is and what it is not, because there is also often a misunderstanding about management action being bullying. It is really very much about providing workers with training and information about what bullying is and putting policies in place saying that it is not acceptable in the workplace.

Senator ABETZ: It is a bit like the fatigue issue that Senator Edwards was raising before as to what we have to teach people nowadays. As to fighting because you thought you were first in the coffee line, I would have thought you would not actually need training to know that every now and then you can take a step backwards and allow somebody else to get their coffee first if it means the world to them. How much are we going to wrap everything up in cotton wool? As these codes are developed, I would just ask people to keep that in mind. With 40 codes that all will be, undoubtedly, somebody's life work that they will be exceptionally proud of and produce at show and tell, they then become quite onerous for the employers to try to live by, especially if you have a varied business that might be engaged in a lot of activities.

One of those activities that I want to refer to is quad bikes. Are you involved with the safety regulation of quad bikes?

Mr Hoy : Quad bikes are included under a rural plant code. Are you talking about that or are you talking about the minister's initiative?

Senator ABETZ: The minister's initiative. Should I be doing that under outcome 4?

Mr Hoy : We are assisting the minister in that, but it is the minister's initiative. Do you have a specific question?

Senator ABETZ: Yes, as to where we are at with that—there has been a discussion paper released, I understand.

Mr Hoy : That is correct.

Senator ABETZ: Did you have input into that discussion paper?

Mr Hoy : We assisted the minister in preparing that document. It will be discussed at a forum in Melbourne on Friday.

Senator ABETZ: This Friday?

Mr Hoy : Yes.

Senator ABETZ: In preparing that document, was any analysis undertaken as to how much quad bikes have taken over from tractors as a means of transport for farmers?

Mr Hoy : Not specifically. The discussion paper—and I am not sure if you have had a look at it—has four specific questions which the minister is seeking some advice and comment on. They are about engineering, controls, children using them. It is not so much about substitution of them for machinery. But there certainly has been an increase in quad bike fatalities, both at work and at leisure. What the minister is trying to do is get some advice from the manufacturers, the industry, users, community groups, as to what might be able to be done to raise awareness about this and see whether we can reduce the number of fatalities.

Senator ABETZ: Any death or injury clearly is one too many—so do not get me wrong—but the assertion has been made that the lift in the number of quad bike injuries and deaths can also, to a large extent, be related to, in the rural community, lots of farmers who used to go round on tractors—

Mr Hoy : And horses.

Senator ABETZ: and horses, 20, 30 or 40 years ago—having as their vehicle of convenience these days a quad bike, and therefore an analysis should be done of horse deaths, tractor deaths, trying to amalgamate them. Having said that, the task is vitally important that we reduce the number of deaths and injuries, so I do not want to diminish the work that has been done there, but I am trying to see whether or not it has been contextualised in the study that has been put forward for discussion.

Mr Hoy : There are organisations around who have looked at those specific figures. They will be represented on Friday. Perhaps they might inform us about some of those things. They have quoted figures that deaths from quad bikes on farms are double those from tractors, but I do not have the specific information about use of quad bikes versus tractors that you are referring to.

Senator BACK: I wonder if we could stay with accidents in agriculture for a moment. In one of your reports on work related injuries in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, you made the notation that the incidence of accidents amongst employees was 30 per cent higher than the incidence amongst self-employed workers. Is that consistent across other industry sectors—that the incidence of injuries is significantly higher amongst employees than amongst self-employed workers?

Ms Grey : That is a difficult question to answer because, in the compensation data, self-employed people are not covered, so we make a distinction there about—

Senator BACK: Did you say 'not covered'?

Ms Grey : No, because people who are self-employed are not covered for workers compensation. In the workers compensation data that we have, they are not covered, but in that report that you are talking about we get the information from other places, including the coronial database and so on.

That is why we make the distinction particularly for agriculture. There are other industries, like construction, where a number of people are not covered for workers compensation, but certainly that would be the industry where there are more incidents amongst people who are self-employed.

Senator BACK: So those who are self-employed would not be covered in circumstances where they are either a sole proprietorship or a partnership as opposed to a company or a trust.

Ms Grey : That is right.

Senator BACK: What protection to people in proprietorships or partnerships take out in relation to any injuries they might suffer in their own workplace?

Ms Grey : They can take out personal injury insurance.

Senator BACK: Or they do not. I wonder whether or not, given that figure of 30 per cent in that circumstance—and thank you for that explanation—you have concluded that it is the case that employees are more at risk than self-employed people, or do you think that the explanation you have just given me does in fact substantially pick up the difference?

Ms Grey : No, I think that picks it up.

Senator BACK: I just wonder whether or not there would be a higher level of experience among people who are self-employed. I am speaking of agriculture now. A kid who has grown up on his father's fishing boat probably has a greater awareness.

Ms Grey : I think that what we have discovered, particularly for agriculture, is that the age of the farmer and working by yourself counts. So, if there is an incident, sometimes it results in a fatality—where in a different workplace it may not result in a fatality—because you are so far from help and you work by yourself. So that often has consequences as well.

Senator BACK: Construction is another industry, is it, where you see a similar—

Ms Grey : Construction is another industry where there is a large number of people who are not covered for workers compensation. But there are certainly fewer injuries amongst contractors in construction than there are among self-employed people in agriculture. Construction is another priority area that we are looking at.

Senator ABETZ: This is another interesting point I just thought of: in the official statistics for—say—workplace deaths, if I am a self-employed individual who gets killed in the course of my employment, is that registered as a workplace death even if there is no workers compensation payable?

Ms Grey : Yes, it is. We have a collection called the notifiable fatalities collection. Under all work health and safety legislation, any fatality that is a result of work—and that includes bystanders—is required to be notified to the work health and safety authorities, and then they provide that information to us.

Senator ABETZ: What about an injury? This, of course, would be a lot more difficult:

Ms Grey : We collect information on injuries through a survey with the ABS. If it is not compensated, we try to pick it up through a survey every five years to try to estimate the number of people who are injured.

Senator ABETZ: You might be compensated through self-insurance, which would not be part of any workers compensation schemes.

Ms Grey : That is right. That is why we need to survey to collect that information.

Senator ABETZ: That was a little frolic to the side. Mr Hoy, how is harmonisation going? Not much to report since last time?

Mr Hoy : I am pleased to report that South Australia looks like they will be able to pass the legislation in that state in the next couple of weeks.

Senator ABETZ: With some amendments?

Mr Hoy : With some amendments, as I understand it. But we will see what comes out of the parliamentary process.

Senator ABETZ: Somebody who is very droll said to me, 'If this is harmonised legislation, I would hate to see them conduct a symphony orchestra.' The harmony is going out a bit, isn't it?

Mr Hoy : In South Australia, as I understand it—I do not know what has happened there—there will be some minor amendments but they will not alter the basic, underlying principles and provisions of the act.

Senator ABETZ: So some music is being played—but the question of whether the music that is being played is in harmony is, I suppose, the issue at stake. That is a value judgment. We have had the discussion before that allowing unions to bring prosecutions in New South Wales is still deemed to be part of the harmonised scheme. I do not see how that works, but we have had a discussion before and we will undoubtedly have it again. So South Australia is moving—what about Western Australia?

Mr Hoy : Western Australia always said that they wanted to see the entire package finalised, which it is other than a few codes and finalisation of mining regulations, which is subject to ministerial council approval. They are also assessing the impact particularly of the regulations, but their intention still is to introduce the model legislation.

Senator ABETZ: Safe Work Australia spends a fair bit on research?

Mr Hoy : Yes, we do.

Senator ABETZ: And you are currently undertaking a research project with New Horizon?

Ms Grey : The work is finished but we still have a contract with them.

Senator ABETZ: The work is finished?

Ms Grey : The work is substantially finished, yes.

Senator ABETZ: That is right, because it finished on 28 September. Is that right?

Ms Grey : The initial contract we had finished on 28 September, but the contractor asked for a variation to the contract to extend until 30 November.

Senator ABETZ: And that has been granted?

Ms Grey : Yes, it has.

Senator ABETZ: At extra cost?

Ms Grey : No, no extra cost. The reason is that she is attending a conference in Copenhagen which she thinks will provide a valuable input into the final report that she is writing for us, so she asked for more time to make sure she could include that input.

Senator ABETZ: Good, because I just had contact from one of the organisations with whom New Horizon were liaising indicating that they had only been contacted for a consultation on 8 August, with a consultation taking place on 20 August. Given the time constraint of 28 September, things were looking exceedingly tight and they were concerned about that. If there has been an extension, that is good. Thanks you; that completes my questions.

CHAIR: Mr Hoy and other officers, thank you very much for your attendance today.