Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (27 November) . . Page.. 4848 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
corporate employers whose conduct is criminally negligent or who take unjustifiable risks with the lives of their workers.
The bill also provides that senior officers of businesses, corporations, government entities, and government ministers can be prosecuted-as natural persons-where they cause the death of a worker.
Currently, the general manslaughter offence in the Crimes Act applies to anyone who negligently or recklessly causes the death of another person. This includes an employer, so that if an employer who is a natural person negligently or recklessly causes the death of one of their workers, they can already be charged.
These days, however, most people are employed by companies. It is very difficult to prosecute a company for manslaughter, due to antiquated common law principles that are used in Australia to attribute criminal liability to a company. Mr Speaker, the ACT is not alone in facing the problem of effective prosecution of companies responsible for workplace deaths.
That was a quote from Ms Gallagher's speech in introducing this very important legislation. It is important to note that Ms Gallagher concluded that paragraph by acknowledging, as we all know, that the ACT is not alone in facing this problem. I have to say that the ACT is prepared to amend its law to ensure that, consistent with existing and established tenets of criminal justice, such prosecutions can be launched and that we as a community are prepared to meet our obligations for assuring the occupational health and safety of workers in the ACT. I think that it is important that we acknowledge that and that certainly is the commitment that this government shows through the presentation of this legislation.
In concluding, and I acknowledge that there will be many other speakers in this debate, let me acknowledge the role of my Minister for Industrial Relations, Katy Gallagher, in developing this legislation and in articulating, explaining and defending its objects and its integrity. This is legislation of which I am and all of my government are proud.
MR PRATT (4.40): The Liberal opposition is concerned that the Labor government continues to push the introduction of this amending bill, the Crimes (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill 2002, in the Legislative Assembly. I foreshadow four amendments which, firstly, will go to the heart of the actual wording and definition of behaviour and, secondly, will seek to bring the government's proposed penalties into line with other benchmarks. I will talk to those in more detail later.
May I state at the outset that there is no demonstrated need for this legislation in the ACT. There were five workplace deaths in the ACT between 1996 and 2001. Whilst even a single fatality should be avoided, there is no evidence that the government's proposed legislation would reduce workplace deaths. In addition, the incidence of workplace deaths in Australia decreased by a third between 1996-97 and 2000-01 through successful risk management programs.
Since the tabling of this amending bill in the Assembly in December 2002, I have received overwhelming opposition from business groups and businesses around Canberra. Workers have also expressed their concerns about an amending bill that they see causing disharmony in the workplace and doing nothing for their safety. This opposition can be seen from the media releases of two of the largest business groups in