Page 3887 - Week 09 - Thursday, 25 August 2011

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Work Health and Safety Bill 2011

Debate resumed from 23 June 2011, on motion by Ms Gallagher:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MR SESELJA (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (12.11): The Canberra Liberals will be opposing this bill. The government tells us that this bill conforms to a national uniform model bill developed through the workplace relations ministerial council, as part of a national reform agenda to harmonise workplace safety laws across Australia. That may be a laudable approach in principle, but it does not necessarily follow that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. Indeed, if it were the intention of all jurisdictions to have exactly the same law, perhaps the better approach would have been for all jurisdictions to transfer governance of national work health and safety laws to the commonwealth. That such an approach was not adopted underscores the need for flexibility across jurisdictions.

The government also claims that the bill is largely the same as the Work Safety Act 2008. Indeed, that is so, but the problems that were raised in this place about that bill remain relevant for this one. Issues such as union right of entry, volunteers and subcontractors being included in the definition of “worker”, where and when responsibility starts and ends, and the expectation that the bill should be debated in the absence of the regulations—all were raised in the 2008 debate. Those issues remain, and now there are more. One is very high offence penalties, many of them carrying strict liability elements. Reverse onus of proof is another. And still another is the abrogation of privilege against self-incrimination.

Just as disturbing is the similarity of approach between 2008 and today in relation to the process employed by this government to bulldoze important legislation through the Assembly. In 2008, the government released an exposure draft of the then bill on 5 June for public consultation. Barely two months later, on the first Tuesday of a two-week sitting period, the government introduced the bill. It called it on for debate on the second Thursday of that same sitting period, with a briefing offered in the middle of that period. Why the urgency? Labor was heading into an election. It wanted to be able to say to its union mates and financiers that it had actually done something. Need I say more, other than that perhaps it was a bit like the pretend opening of the AMC a month or so later.

This was a major piece of legislation that departed from legislation then in place in all other jurisdictions in Australia. It was legislated to pre-empt the uncompleted work of the workplace relations ministerial council. It drew the ire of the business community because it did not have enough time to consider the final bill. It drew the ire of the Assembly for the same reason. Indeed, both the Greens and the Liberals voted against the bill, leaving the government, then in majority, using its numbers to push it through anyway. It was a hallmark of Labor’s arrogance, which continues today.

The bill we are debating today, a major piece of legislation, was introduced on 23 June this year. The government has brought it on for debate today, only two

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