Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 6 Hansard (15 May) . . Page.. 1605 ..
MS TUCKER (continuing):
The Greens' occupational health and safety policy puts the health and wellbeing of employees first. Clearly, if Australia is trailing most of the OECD countries on deaths, and presumably therefore on physical injury as well, then it is something we need to address.
We recently passed legislation for a new workers compensation scheme in the ACT. It is a groundbreaking scheme, in that it both allows common law action and includes a table of maims in order to simplify the compensation process. It also sees a shift towards a level of awards that would allow badly injured workers and their families a reasonable standard of living after the event.
The two key drivers of this new scheme are found in occupational health and safety, and rehabilitation and return to the work force. The rehabilitation regime puts considerable pressure on injured employees to agree to a rehabilitation plan to manage the injury and where possible to go back to work.
There is always more room to encourage safety at the workplace, and the discussion last year around workers compensation for group training and later in regard to the new ACT scheme identified OH&S as an area for real improvement.
It is important to point out that industrial manslaughter legislation is not about locking up anyone vaguely responsible for an accidental death. The legislation at present before the Victorian parliament targets only gross negligence. If passed, it would amend the Crimes Act and in the first instance result in corporate manslaughter charges against the business responsible, then against the senior officer responsible, not just a workplace safety officer or area manager.
The same requirements of criminal law such as proof beyond reasonable doubt would apply. Penalties would be up to five years in jail for the senior officer, and the company would take any action the court directed, such as apologies, change of workplace organisation and so on.
At present, in cases of gross negligence a company can avoid fines by winding up, and the senior officers can move on to another business. In this context, Allan Fels of the ACCC has been raising the issue of jail terms for other corporate misconduct. He argues that fines will not necessarily affect the behaviour of people at the top of organisations.
The Greens are pleased to see the government commit to progressing this area. It is, as people have said, an area that has a real impact on people in the ACT but also across Australia. We need to be as alarmed about the high rate of industrial deaths as we are alarmed about deaths on the road and deaths due to other causes which we see as avoidable.
MS GALLAGHER (11.13), in reply: I thank members for their comments and support on this issue. I would like to reiterate a number of points that must be at the forefront of members' minds. There is a clear need for law reform in this area. As I have mentioned, Australia has unacceptably high levels of workplace deaths as things stand.