Page 3960 - Week 10 - Thursday, 28 August 2008
During the exposure draft consultation, there were a variety of fora at which the community could seek information and have their say about the legislation. The views received have informed the final bill and have confirmed that, on the whole, this bill sits very well with the community. The bill balances the interests of workers and business.
This bill has been a long time coming. The government picked up the process in 2005, with the Occupational Health and Safety Council’s “scope and structure” report. There was a full exposure draft period for members to participate. Given that the bill did not depart greatly from the exposure draft, and the OH&S Council’s support, the government is seeking to pass the bill.
The existing Occupational Health and Safety Act 1989 is nearly 20 years old. It is time for it to be replaced. This Assembly has the power to overhaul and modernise this legislation right now. I do not believe it is prudent to wait for the national agenda when there is an urgent need to replace the ACT’s safety legislation to address contemporary changes in work and employment arrangements and to address emerging risks such as occupational violence, bullying, stress and fatigue.
This government is fully committed to the national harmonisation of occupational health and safety laws and to updating the ACT safety laws. These two commitments are not mutually exclusive; rather, they are complementary. The Work Safety Bill 2008 incorporates much of the harmonisation work to date and brings the ACT into step with other jurisdictions. I urge members to support the modernisation of this legislation with a view to future harmonisation.
It is my understanding that there is general agreement that volunteers who work in employment-like settings should be afforded work safety. However, some members are concerned that the legislation will inadvertently cast a wider net than is intended. Careful consideration has been given to the definition of “worker” to avoid this situation, but we will continue to monitor the situation and further refinement can be made if necessary.
The final issue I would like to address is the express right of private prosecutions for registered unions and employer organisations along the lines of the common law position. This will enable a prosecution to be commenced by a registered employee or employer organisation. However, the right of the Director of Public Prosecution is reserved to intervene and take over, or discontinue, a private prosecution at any time.
Organisations undertaking prosecutions will not financially benefit from the proceedings and I do not expect that the courts will be inundated with vexatious proceedings. This has certainly not been the experience of New South Wales, where similar provisions have been in place for many years and only a handful of private prosecutions have commenced.
It was interesting that Mr Smyth talked about us being out of step with New South Wales. He appears quite happy for us to be out of step with New South Wales on this issue because it does not suit his ideological agenda. But the point is that these