Page 3497 - Week 11 - Thursday, 15 November 2007

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However, since delegation does not transfer ultimate responsibility, there has been residual responsibility to the various chief executives and statutory office holders. This can lead to several problems, including unnecessary duplication of work. However, more worryingly, it can also lead to an absence of clear responsibilities which, in the worst case, can lead to a failure to properly exercise responsibilities rather than to their unnecessary duplication. This is an unnecessarily complex governance structure and is, indeed, in need of reform.

I am satisfied from briefings with departmental officials that this bill will go some way towards simplifying and clarifying regulatory responsibilities for occupational health and safety matters. That purpose and objective is something that the opposition sees as sensible and one that it would support. This bill will transfer the various powers and responsibilities of many of the different people currently holding powers to the Chief Executive of the Office of Regulatory Services. Under the changes proposed in this bill, the Occupational Health and Safety Commissioner will no longer be responsible for operational and regulatory matters, but will instead be concerned with research into and the promotion of the occupational health and safety laws.

The commissioner will remain an independent body, separate from any government departments. In accordance with this policy, the bill amends the act to ensure that the commissioner is not subject to directions from the Office of Regulatory Services. But there are problems with these split powers. Although we are satisfied that this bill will go some way towards simplifying the operation of occupational health and safety regulation, there is one area of concern that the government must be mindful of in administering this system, and I hope the minister will heed this point.

Several industry groups have raised concerns about the fact that regulatory powers are administered by a different agency than deals with businesses to advise and liaise with them. Although this is consolidated by changes in the current bill, this has been an existing complaint about dealings with government agencies over occupational health and safety matters. The danger that arises when functions are split between agencies is that the agency that administers the regulations may not stick to the advice given by the agency that is involved with education and liaising with businesses, and employers in particular. This can leave businesses getting mixed messages or, at worst, being unfairly treated when a regulatory agency reneges on advice provided by an education agency.

Businesses in this territory need to know clearly where they stand on such an important issue as occupational health and safety. The consequence of getting that wrong is potentially quite catastrophic. The concerns that have been raised with me suggest that the government is still failing to properly coordinate its agencies in this area. I have said that it makes sense to concentrate the regulatory powers, but we still have a significant problem in terms of education and providing advice. It is therefore imperative that the Occupational Health and Safety Commissioner and the Office of Regulatory Services work consistently to ensure that the advice being given to businesses and the way the regulations are being applied coincide.

We cannot simply have, as I said the other day, the parking meter enforcer mentality where we say: “Bad luck, you’ve broken the law. End of discussion.” We need to

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