Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 10 Hansard (Tuesday, 20 September 2011) . . Page.. 4097 ..
courts to respond meaningfully and proportionately to the worst breaches by the small minority of duty holders for whom the existing range of fines may have little punitive effect.
This is not about minor speeding fines. This is not about minor offences. This is about dealing with those people who are in the minority, as we know, but who are willing to risk the lives and welfare of workers simply because of a deadline, because they are too lazy to check what is happening or because they do not care enough to ensure that workers are safe. While I might be able to accept that someone might occasionally make a mistake and exceed the speed limit, I cannot accept that someone would put their workers’ lives at risk, and those who do should face the consequences. The proposed amendments from Mrs Dunne would seriously undermine this and would signal to the rest of Australia that we here in the ACT value the lives of our workers less than other jurisdictions do.
MS BRESNAN (Brindabella) (4.49): The Greens do not agree with Mrs Dunne’s proposed amendments to the penalty provisions in this bill. We accept that there is a good reason for the changes to penalties through this harmonised legislation. There are advantages to having penalties in the ACT that are consistent with those in other jurisdictions. In particular, by passing this bill and the revised penalty provisions it contains, we will make ACT penalties consistent with New South Wales penalties. This is particularly advantageous due to the fact that many businesses work between New South Wales and the ACT; so harmonisation is sensible. As I said before, the Liberal Party has strongly advocated for harmonisation between the jurisdictions on other issues; so I see no reason to stray from that now.
I am of the opinion that strong penalties are appropriate for laws that are designed to protect workers. While this bill would involve a reduction in the maximum jail term from seven years to five years, it does involve a significant increase in the available financial penalties. I am satisfied that this maintains a suitable range of penalty options. I would point out that there has been some dissatisfaction in jurisdictions around Australia with the low level of fines applied to employers for serious workplace breaches, and I can understand why nationally we are moving towards the availability of higher maximum fines. We also need to ensure that penalties are sufficient to both deter and penalise the biggest national and multinational companies and to deter and penalise breaches that can have very serious impacts on individuals and the community.
I referred earlier to the company Orica, formerly ICI, which reportedly leaked carcinogenic hexavalent chromium in Newcastle. The chemical is cancer causing and is toxic to marine life. Orica is a large multinational company. The Australian arm of the company has apparently had 265 reported breaches in 10 years of its pollution licences in its two New South Wales plants alone. There is considerable consternation in New South Wales at the moment about whether there are sufficient enforcement options to prevent these kinds of problems.
These kinds of large companies operate in the ACT as well. Members may have read about asbestos problems currently occurring in Fyshwick at a plant run by Boral. Boral is a multinational building and construction company. We need penalties that