Page 4093 - Week 10 - Tuesday, 20 September 2011
This means that an individual will be compelled to provide information when asked but that that information and any information obtained as a result of the forced disclosure cannot be used to prosecute the individual. The government believes these safeguards are adequate in this circumstance.
MS BRESNAN (Brindabella) (4.30): The Greens will not be supporting Mrs Dunne’s proposed amendment. Removal of the right against self-incrimination involves a weighing up of the impact of the rights of the individual with the need to bring to light breaches of the act, particularly those that could seriously impact on the safety of workers. A similar right exists already in our Dangerous Substances Act. The Greens have given consideration to that section as well as to the broader context of worker safety, the safety of the community and the national harmonisation review that considered in detail the best way to balance issues such as individual rights and work health and safety outcomes.
I am satisfied that the abrogation of the right is in this instance justified. I will note the important rider to clause 172 which says that any document, information or thing obtained directly or indirectly through these enforcement powers cannot be admissible against a person in any civil or criminal penalty other than those under the work health and safety act.
I can understand why this power exists in this bill. The bill is about managing issues that cause risks or dangers to workers or other people. It is important to ensure that these risks can be addressed up front rather than let them continue while a person under suspicion withholds information. Imagine the circumstance, for example, where there is a toxic material in a workplace. The person with knowledge about this should be compelled to give it at the time, to save the health of the many people who could be exposed.
Recent events in Australia give some context to this power. Last week we had a fire in Canberra that caused great concern because of the potential for toxic chemicals to cause harm to people and the environment. In another example in August this year a carcinogenic cloud of hexavalent chromium was released from a chemical plant in Newcastle and drifted across the Hunter River to the residential suburb of Stockton. In these situations it is extremely important that authorities can get information about the risks and dangers to people. It is not sufficient to let a person with knowledge exercise a right against self-incrimination and thereby not reveal critical information to protecting lives.
It should be noted that this power is held by inspectors and the regulator only and that there are considerable safeguards surrounding the authority of inspectors. The functions and powers of inspectors are set out in clause 160 of the bill. They only have the power to investigate compliance with the bill; that is, issues around work health and safety. Inspectors are only appointed by the regulator and inspectors are always subject to the directions of the regulator.
In the context of the bill and its goals ensuring we have strong laws to protect workers, I am satisfied that this is a reasonable use of power and a proportionate limitation to the Human Rights Act.