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Friday, 2 March 1984
Page: 329

Senator CROWLEY —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations seen the report in today's Australian Financial Review headed 'Australia has third worst work safety record says NSC'? It reports that according to recent assessments by the National Safety Council in New South Wales alone, 300 people die each year through industrial accidents and diseases and each year there are 145,000 accidents from which workers are incapacitated for more than three days. Will the Minister comment on these figures compared to the claims for the same figures being the Australia-wide figures for last year? Will the Minister agree that these figures are quite appalling and that any reduction in the number of industrial deaths and accidents would contribute to a considerable reduction in on-costs to industry and to increased productivity, apart from the great saving to human pain and misery? Will the Minister comment on the need for rapid implementation of the Government's occupational health and safety program and adequate industrial data collection?

Senator BUTTON —I have not seen the report in this morning's Australian Financial Review. Senator Crowley might be surprised to know that in those circumstances I have not discussed it with the Minister. On my recollection of the figures provided by Senator Crowley and which are apparently published in the Financial Review, they are consistent with the figures which were published last year and with the figures which have been published in Australia over many years in relation to industrial health and safety matters. I think those figures have been seen by all honourable senators from time to time, even in the worst years of industrial disputation in Australia.

I am making the point that the time lost in Australia through industrial accidents has always been enormously high compared with time lost through industrial disputation and a variety of other matters. It is a problem which has not ever been addressed adequately by governments. In that historical context, it is sad that the present Government is now giving major attention to these problems at a time when the nature of industrial activity is changing significantly both in terms of equipment used and so on and in terms of the technological upmarketing of industry which makes accidents and disease of this kind probably less likely. All I am saying is that we are tackling the problem and it is sad that it has happened late in the day. Nonetheless, it is a problem which has to be tackled.

The honorable senator and other honourable senators will be aware of the Government's proposals in respect of the national commission and the priority which the Government is giving to this question. It is difficult to estimate whether it means a reduction in on-costs to industry. I am sure it does. When I say that it is difficult to estimate, I mean that it is difficult to quantify what it means in terms of the reduction of on-wage costs to industry. It is difficult to quantify because it is not only a question of the time lost by employees but also a question of the relationship between the time lost and the compensation which is provided to individual employees in respect of accidents in which they are involved. The Government has for some time had under review the question of rationalising compensation for accident and injury. Whether we can reach a satisfactory solution to that question in co-operation with the State governments remains to be seen. Of course, compensation for industry is enormously costly as an on-cost. The two things are very much related. That is all I can say in answer to the honourable senator's question. I will refer the question to the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations to see whether he has anything further to add to the answer I have given.