Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 13 Hansard (27 November) . . Page.. 4872 ..
MRS CROSS (continuing):
concerned that the emphasis was all on the employer. They felt that there should be an equal emphasis on the employee. Mr Deputy Speaker, that is probably not the case as the employer is always responsible for the running of the business and the culture that is maintained.
However, the minister agreed yet again to include a clause that includes all workers. This amendment indicates that any worker who recklessly or negligently causes the death of another worker can also be charged with manslaughter. The reason for this is simple: this comes straight from the Crimes Act. The amendment points to section 15 of the Crimes Act covering manslaughter. It highlights the worker's responsibility.
I originally organised a round-table meeting after my discussions with business people who indicated to me that there was a lack of understanding on their part of the actual detail of the bill and what in fact the bill does that is different to the current situation. This lack of understanding has led to discontent and fear felt by the general business community. It was interesting, however, to discover that the main concerns of the business community related to issues of fear of a potential overreaction by the courts and the fear that employers would have to defend themselves against a manslaughter charge when they believed they were not at fault.
They were concerned that they would be liable for huge amounts of money to defend themselves when they were not guilty. In fact, under our current Crimes Act, this situation already exists. Employers can be charged with manslaughter now, and could have been last year and the year before, under the Crimes Act. If an employer has recklessly or negligently caused the death of an employee, that employer can be charged with manslaughter now if indeed the police have evidence and the Director of Public Prosecutions decides that there is a case to answer.
This situation does not change with this bill. This bill does not add anything new for individual employers or small businesses. As I have tried to point out to the business people I have spoken to, the bill is designed to provide the final, hard point to capture those corporations which cannot be charged with manslaughter under the current Crimes Act. Corporations not individuals, or to use the legal term "natural persons", are the ones to be captured by this bill.
It is unfortunate that a certain peak business body has taken the approach to panic its members about this bill by using misleading information and emotive rubbish. I have had many emails and phone calls from business people over the last couple of weeks who relay to me the mantra put out by the ACT and Region Chamber of Commerce which is pure hyperbole and designed to keep the panic alive. It is sort of a "maintain the rage"campaign on the other side of politics.
I do wonder whether this organisation is aware that it has abrogated its responsibility to its members. This organisation has a responsibility to its members to lobby the government and other members of the Assembly on behalf of its own members. I am not aware of any amount of lobbying, and certainly not with my office, since the bill was tabled over a year ago. There should have been lobbying in all areas to make sure that the chamber, first, understood the detail of the bill and then made sure that the aspects it was not happy with were amended. This did not happen.