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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 3

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (12:50 PM) —What I can say is this: I am advised that part of the response is contained within the Wednesday, 5 November 2008 communique from the Australian, state, territory and New Zealand Workplace Relations Ministers Council—I am unsure of whether you have a copy of that; I can provide it to you. Ministers at that meeting:

… were also updated on the progress of legislation to establish Safe Work Australia. Ministers highlighted that Senate amendments to the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 were inconsistent with the historic commitment of all governments to uniform national OHS legislation as reflected in the inter-governmental agreement on OHS reforms signed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in July 2008.

The ministers also:

… noted with much concern that the amendments threatened the harmonisation of national OHS legislation, thereby delaying a significant and long overdue economic reform which would enhance OHS outcomes, reduce red tape for business and strengthen Australia’s productive capacity.

The attendees included not only the Deputy Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, but also Hon. Robert Hulls for Victoria, Hon. John Hatzistergos from New South Wales, Hon. John Mickel from Queensland, Hon. Paul Caica from South Australia, Hon. Troy Buswell from WA, Hon. Tim Holding from Victoria and Hon. Joseph Tripodi from New South Wales. They were in unison about the need to pass these laws as put to this house. Why? The communique goes through a range of issues, but let me put it this way: this government has set itself the task of creating a seamless national economy unhampered by unnecessary state duplication, overlap and differences in occupational health and safety. This is a historic time where we can move to get outcomes in relation to harmonisation of OH&S codes. Occupational health and safety is a prime example of the reform that is needed and should be allowed to progress. The opposition agrees with it. We seem to be stuck on some issues. The opposition cannot seem to grasp that it has been agreed by both the states and the Commonwealth to move forward. We want to move forward in this area.

The cost to the economy is significant if we do not get OH&S reform. We know more than 300 Australians are killed each year at work. More die as a result of work related disease. Each year over 140,000 Australians are seriously injured at work. This is an area where the establishment of Safe Work Australia is an essential part of the government’s strategy to improve safety outcomes. I ask the opposition to consider the overarching necessity of moving forward with this rather than getting bogged down over the detail, which they are now doing. We have the communique from the Australian, State, Territory and New Zealand Workplace Relations Minsters Council. They have signed up to a document that they want and would like to see passed in this place.

Importantly, it is not only the ministerial council that has dealt with this. I note that in some of the issues you raised there seems to have been a coalition of opposition from both the unions and employers. But can I take you also to the position of the Business Council of Australia. On Sunday, 9 November 2008, the BCA urged the Senate to:

… remove a potential handbrake on business activity by reconsidering amendments to the Bill establishing Safe Work Australia in the parliamentary sessions resuming from this week.

The BCA chief executive, Katie Lahey, said the removal of any barriers to the efficient operation of businesses were even more important in tough economic conditions.

She went on to state:

In the current climate, businesses need every help to get on with the job. The amendments sought by the Senate jeopardise moves to make business operations and employment of workers simpler across our jurisdictions.

She also went on to say:

The amendments sought by the Senate in the last sitting are inconsistent with the agreement by all governments at COAG to deliver a uniform national system of occupational health and safety (OHS) laws.

In addition, she stated:

The BCA remains strongly of the view that the implementation of a nationally consistent OHS legislative framework is critical to realising the aim of a seamless economy for Australia.

In conclusion, the statement that the Business Council of Australia made effectively urged the Senate to reconsider its view, to consider the views of business and to pass the bill in its original form when it returns to the house, which is today. I ask the opposition to take note of both the communique from the ministerial council plus the views of the BCA and to support our position. We do want harmonised occupational health and safety outcomes, and they should allow that message to go through. We accept that we do not always get what we want, but, for the overall good of the economy, the ability to get all states and territories in the carding is really a historic occasion that we should not let slip by. With that, I urge that the Senate consider this issue and, in reconsidering its amendments, accept that they should not pass.