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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31191

Ms KERNOT (10:43 AM) —The Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business Legislation Amendment (Application of Criminal Code) Bill 2001 amends a number of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business portfolio statutes to ensure that they accord with chapter 2 of the Criminal Code Act 1995. We know that this is occurring across portfolios, with the standard intention of ensuring that all Commonwealth criminal offences have a standard formulation of the elements of fault, burden of proof and penalty.

Labor has supported this application of the Criminal Code across the portfolios to date, on the understanding that the changes are related to consistency and that they seek to clarify the current legal arrangements rather than change them. It is our understanding that this is the case for these changes to offences within the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business.

What we would like to get on the record from the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business, before the bill moves to the Senate, is a guarantee that the government does have formal legal advice that the changes we are talking about here, especially in relation to occupational health and safety, do not in any way water down the penalties for employers engaging in unscrupulous and unsafe workplace practices. We would really like to have that guarantee; if it is forthcoming, then obviously this bill has the opposition's full support.

I think anyone would have been able to observe over the last few years that the practice of taking things on trust has been eroded somewhat. That is why we are seeking to have such a guarantee written down somewhere, so that if we need to address this matter, we are legally entitled to do so; we can say that we have been given this guarantee. We reserve the right, if it turns out not to be the case, to make changes at a later stage. With that reservation, Labor would be supporting this bill.