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Thursday, 29 March 2007
Page: 11

Dr STONE (Minister for Workforce Participation) (9:36 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Building and Construction Industry Improvement Amendment (OHS) Bill 2007 reinforces the government’s commitment to improving the occupational health and safety performance of the building and construction industry.

In 2002-03, when Commissioner Cole reported on the Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, the industry was one of the most dangerous to work in. There were 37 compensated fatalities in the industry, which comprised almost one-fifth (18 per cent) of all compensated workplace fatalities for the year. The industry also had the third highest incidence of workplace injuries with more than 12,500 compensated injuries, or 34 injuries per day.

Commissioner Cole concluded that improvements in OHS performance must be brought about through cultural and behavioural change. As a major client and provider of capital to the construction industry, the Australian government is well positioned to drive such change.

The government has wholly committed itself to this role through the enactment of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005 (the act) and by establishing the Federal Safety Commissioner. Through the Commissioner’s work, this government is fostering a culture where work must be performed safely as well as on budget and on time.

Under the act the Federal Safety Commissioner is tasked with promoting improved OHS in the construction industry and administering the Australian Government Building and Construction OHS Accreditation Scheme (the scheme).

The scheme has proven to be a major development in OHS for the construction industry. The scheme ensures that only head contractors who have effective OHS management policies and systems in place can contract to undertake building work for the Australian government. This government does not want to do business with builders who do not take health and safety seriously.

Since the scheme commenced on 1 March 2006, 64 builders have achieved scheme accreditation and more than 170 safety audits have been conducted. Additionally, 23 new government construction projects, worth $1.44 billion, are covered by the scheme.

In his recommendations Commissioner Cole also noted that the government has an opportunity to further improve OHS in the industry by utilising its influence as a provider of funding to state and territory governments and private industry. The government agreed to take full advantage of this opportunity by implementing a second stage of the scheme in 2007. This bill will fulfil the government’s commitment to this approach by facilitating the application of the scheme to builders contracting to undertaking building work on projects where the government has contributed significant funding.

In keeping with the intent of the scheme to only apply to builders who actually perform building work, this bill will enable the exclusion of contractors on construction projects who do not perform building work. This includes contractors who provide support and pre-construction services such as project management and environmental assessments.

The bill will also clarify the intent of the scheme that accredited builders remain accredited while undertaking building work covered by the scheme.

To assist the Federal Safety Commissioner in effectively administering the scheme the bill will also simplify the process for engaging federal safety officers, who undertake audits of builders to assess their initial and ongoing eligibility for accreditation.

To further assist the Federal Safety Commissioner to promote health and safety in the construction industry the bill will allow the commissioner, and persons working in the commissioner’s office, to disclose information under certain circumstances on the OHS performance of accredited contractors to the minister.

Occupational health and safety is a significant issue for all of us. It affects us, our families and our friends. The construction industry has traditionally been a poor performer in the area of health and safety. This government has taken the opportunity provided it to change this.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Edwards) adjourned.