Page 3885 - Week 13 - Tuesday, 29 October 2013
a conviction is recorded at all. Penalties in other jurisdictions often run closer to hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more, for similar offences. For too long in this territory, the penalties and costs for breaching work safety laws have not matched the pain and the costs suffered by those injured or grieving as a result of these breaches.
In my previous work representing low paid and insecure workers, I saw the effects that poor workplace health and safety cultures had on workers and their ability to stay safe in their jobs. Sometimes these were the result of an ill-informed employer, but far too often poor work health and safety practices exist because employers were all too aware that the costs saved from not properly protecting their employees outweighed the chances of being caught and the small fines they had to pay if found guilty.
Too many times I saw cleaners in our town being treated badly and having their work health and safety put at risk. One cleaner, as a result of mixing cleaning products, had ended up with a severe loss to her sense of smell. It had been damaged so much that she is no longer able to smell the food that she eats, no longer able to smell the grass that is cut around our beautiful suburbs and city. We all take having our sense of smell for granted. But due to the instructions from her employer, through laziness or the ability to make a quick buck, her sense of smell, her workplace health and safety, and her life and her future have been sacrificed.
The Getting home safely report makes a concise argument about the need for the existence of greater disincentives for employers who breach their workplace health and safety obligations. It is not a disincentive for the fine to match the cost of doing the right thing in the first place. As I have said previously in this place, one of the key findings from the Getting home safely report was the need to change the culture on construction sites to bring a greater focus on the importance of safety in our workplaces.
It is very important for workers to know that they have a strong legal framework that protects their safety at work. The creation of the industrial magistrates court sends a strong message to employers that they have the responsibility to ensure that the workplaces they operate are safe and that their workers are not exposed to dangerous practices or conditions.
Passing this amendment today will be another step towards creating a strong culture of safety in our workplaces. I know that there are a lot of people here today who unequivocally think this is a step worth taking. I commend the bill to the Assembly.
MS GALLAGHER (Molonglo—Chief Minister, Minister for Regional Development, Minister for Health and Minister for Higher Education) (10.22): I rise to speak briefly to the Magistrates Court (Industrial Proceedings) Amendment Bill 2013. Madam Speaker, the government starts from the principle that laws should protect the occupational health and safety of all workers, regardless of their occupation. Over the last few years we have amended our occupational health and safety laws, including the adoption of national laws, to ensure that the laws provide the legal framework to prioritise health and safety of people at work.