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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 2036

Mr McARTHUR(11.21) —The purpose of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission Bill is to establish the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission, yet another statutory corporation and quango. It is not enough that the Commonwealth has already established 338 statutory bodies and 307 non-statutory bodies. In Victoria the situation is worse. There are 9,000 quangos, of which 1,000 are considered to be significant. Until recently most of these bodies failed to report adequately their activities or financial operations. The public, and perhaps more importantly the taxpayers, hardly know many of them exist, what benefits-or lack of them-they provide, how much they spend, or to what degree they are responsible for the intrusion into and regulation of their lives and work practices. Here we are, not having learnt anything, proposing to set up yet another statutory body that undoubtedly will grow like topsy and demand ever increasing amounts of revenue, all to provide dubious benefits for workers and employers, not to mention taxpayers.

Nobody would argue that the health and well being of everyone in the work force and their families is not of fundamental importance. What is of even greater importance is how best we can achieve their health and well being. I do not believe that a Canberra-based bureaucracy will be able to ensure that a worker puts on his protective helmet or ear muffs or even that a worker returns to work as soon as practicable after injury without further jeopardising his own recovery or causing strain or injury to co-workers. Only action on the shop floor, with incentives or even penalties to encourage both workers and management to be responsible for safer work practices, will bring about a situation wherein safety equipment is used and attendance at work brings about greater financial returns than do workers compensation payments at home.

The Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) referred in his second reading speech to the $6 billion wastage through loss of production and associated costs of occupational injury and ill health. I suggest to honourable members that the $6 billion wastage is due more to the lack of incentive to return to work after injury. There are just no incentives in Australia to return to work when workers' compensation payments provide 85 per cent of salary and even 100 per cent when the employer makes up the difference. This contrasts noticeably with the situation in the United States of America, where compensation payments make up 50 per cent of salary, and with the bonus system based on units of output the worker could end up receiving 30 per cent of his normal take home pay. Unless there is an incentive to return to work no amount of expensive, centralised, bureaucratic commissions, institutes or committees will succeed in regulating or educating workers to the merits of working rather than receiving workers compensation premiums at home. The $6 billion will continue to grow.

Clause 8 refers to the principal functions of the Bill. Some of these functions have very questionable implications. Take the sub-clause that proposes recommendations for action by Australia, which states:

. . . to comply with the provisions of any international instrument relating to occupational health and safety matters.

It is bad enough that we have Australian State and Federal politicians and bureaucrats regulating shop floor activity let alone Geneva based International Labour Organisation ideologues telling us how we should manage our affairs. Overseas experience tells us that these sorts of government initiatives provide little benefit at great cost. Alan Saunders, the technical director of the corporate underwriting group of companies from Sydney, when speaking at a national conference on overseas trends in occupational health, quoted the reaction of 1,600 delegates at the National Safety Congress in Chicago. He had this to say:

The almost universal reaction from people I spoke to was that the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which has now been in force for ten years, is an abject failure.

. . . .

the general consensus is the OSHA has cost a lot of money and has not achieved anything very much. Over the past ten years lost time injuries have increased by 25% and lost days have increased by 34%. This is not matched by the population increase over that time which has been about 1% per year. Obviously OSHA is not an occupational and safety health program, but has set itself up as a policeman to report and fine on mechanical breaches of the Act.

The proposed budget for the Commission as set out in the report is a minimum of $24m in the first year, and $41m will be required in the second year for the activities of the Commission. The Commission will employ some 300 persons. Also incorporated in that budget is an item of $7.5m for training. There is no allowance for superannuation on-costs. I put it to honourable members that they should consider the full cost of this Commission in 10 years time in real and money terms. Although the Minister says in his speech that the major jurisdiction over occupational health and safety will remain with the States, I can find nothing in the Bill that actually ensures that there will be no duplication of awards or codes of practice. If the intent of the Bill is maintained, why is there any reason to duplicate State regulatory activities with an expensive bureaucracy based in Canberra?

I turn now to the Victorian legislation, to which the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack) referred. The Victorian Government had a proposal before the Parliament for an occupational health measure, a vital component of which had been drawn up by the left wing of the Australian Labor Party. The safety officer elected by the union officials was to be able to call an immediate stop-work on the shop floor and the management was to have no say in that decision either on the shop floor or in the factory. If this proposal had been incorporated in the Act one could imagine the industrial muscle that that would have given union delegates. The concrete pour syndrome which is so evident in the building industry in Victoria would have been further entrenched. Just imagine what would happen at the Alcoa company, which has a continuous process of manufacture, if a safety official was able to turn off the plant without any redress by the management or any discussion.

Further sub-clauses in the Bill refer to the declaration, encouragement and evaluation of national standards and codes of practice. It never ceases to amaze me how we continually kid ourselves that either we or the deputies of the statutory authorities are better placed to set standards rather than those people actually involved in the activities we seek to regulate. The attitude of the management and the work force in the work place are key elements. Other key elements are the human factor and the participation by those involved. I have had occasion to discuss these matters with a major manufacturing company where through a positive approach the management and the unions involved have arranged for a meeting of union personnel and the foreman once a month in eight sections of the plant. There is a meeting at the end of each month where discussions on safety matters take place-matters such as safety glasses, helmets, safety boots and protective clothing. In this arena there has been good progress when there has been an understanding of the problem.

I have no doubt that the worker probably faces the greatest risk in travelling to and from the work place in a motor vehicle. How do we propose to solve that problem? We already have an inordinate degree of regulation governing road travel. Police forces try to protect us from ourselves when we drive from point A to point B, but still we have death and carnage on the roads. Million dollar qangos will not fix errors of judgment on the part of individuals. Finally, co-operation, understanding and a degree of common sense between management and the work force will greatly assist in solving this industrial safety problem. I have worked in high risk industry and I am sure that a $41m Commission will not protect other Australians or me from work related injuries.