Page 2885 - Week 09 - Thursday, 18 August 2005

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Both the OH&S Act and the Dangerous Substances Act presently stipulate that the reviewer must not be a public employee employed in an administrative unit that is responsible for the administration of the acts. They also stipulate that the reviewer must not be subject to direction by the minister or the chief executive in carrying out the review. These amendments delete those requirements and give the minister the freedom to decide who does the review.

At face value, removing the independent reviewer and giving the minister the flexibility to make arrangements for the conduct of the reviews of the OH&S Act and the Dangerous Substances Act may appear as a loss in accountability. However, at present the minister arranges for the person to do the review, so it is she who decides who does it. She also sets the terms of reference; so in practice the reviewer is not as independent as one might first consider when reading this legislation.

The amendment requiring the minister to review the operations of the acts does not change anything in practice. The present OH&S Act specifically requires the review to include an assessment of the impact of the 2004 amendments, which tighten up the process for issuing infringement notices and provide for an increase in penalties for non-compliance with directives, and the operation and effectiveness of the provision for entry to workplaces by authorised representatives, that is, union right of entry. The proposed amendments delete those assessments being stipulated in legislation. Therefore, I would like the minister to put beyond any doubt that the impact of these items will be assessed as soon as possible after 30 June 2007. Obviously, l would be grateful for her assurance on this matter.

In our view there is no doubt that the impact of union right of entry to a workplace needs to be reviewed. It has been imposed against business under the guise of OH&S at a time when union membership and relevance are at historically low levels, as I have said on previous occasions.

Mr Gentleman: It has been growing.

MR MULCAHY: For the benefit of Mr Gentleman, it is down to 18 per cent, as much as that may be a depressing figure. We have one of the lowest levels of union membership in the nation. The unions once came to me many years ago and said; “How do we improve our marketing to get more people involved?” I took one look at the people representing them and I thought; “Mm, you have quite a challenge.” Their relevance to the proceedings is something that needs to be looked at.

I well remember the ferocity of people within the electorate of Molonglo, particularly the businesses, when we met at the convention centre prior to the election over their concern about some of the union right of entry issues that were seen as taking a very partisan approach to the administration. So we look forward to a review of how that is working. It creates a level of suspicion that does nothing to promote Canberra as a business-friendly location. There is much opposition to this policy of government and it provides a classic example of a government impost that affects business confidence, regardless of how the power is used. A broad-ranging review of its impact is clearly necessary.

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