Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 [No. 2]
It is in fact a pity that the government has chosen to reintroduce effectively the same bill as that which was debated last year in the parliament, that bill being the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 and this bill being the Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 [No. 2]. In the previous debate there were amendments moved, amendments which were carried and amendments which enjoyed widespread support in the Australian community. The amendments which were proposed by the Liberal-National opposition in the Senate were moved successfully with the support of the Greens, Family First and Independent South Australian Senator Xenophon, and interestingly enough they enjoyed the support of both the ACTU and the ACCI. The government rejected the amendments and the bill was laid aside until now. It is being reintroduced in 2009, no doubt in the hope, from the government’s perspective, that it will gain a double-dissolution trigger.
There has been a whole lot of misinformation out there about where the Liberal-National opposition stands with respect to a national occupational health and safety system. I just want to place on record that the opposition broadly supports a national OH&S system and recognises the benefits of having one consistent framework in this area, as in so many other areas, rather than having a series of state based systems with vastly different requirements for workplace safety. There is much to be said for the savings in compliance costs to employers and employees. Today we are a national marketplace, and many businesses operate across state and territory borders. Occupational health and safety is a particularly important part of running a workplace properly today. It is important that workplaces are safe and that people are able to carry out their duties without risk to their health or safety. Both sides of the industrial equation, employers and employees, have an equal part to play in making sure that Australian workplaces are as safe as they can appropriately be.
As has been indicated by other speakers representing the opposition, we do have a number of serious concerns with the operation of the bill. There are amendments which we would prefer to see carried to make this bill a better bill. However, we are of the view that the bill ought not to be blocked in the parliament, and consequently we are not insisting on the amendments which were moved successfully by a broad range of opinion in the Senate. We have been prepared to sit down and talk. We have been prepared to be pragmatic, unlike the government, which takes a fairly dogmatic and ‘we know it all’ approach, which is unable to negotiate and which is unable to improve legislation. We have seen this in relation to the emissions trading issue which is currently being debated in the Australian community.
It is important that the government, which does enjoy a majority in the House of Representatives and therefore has been commissioned to govern Australia, be prepared to accept that it does not have a monopoly on good ideas and common sense. The Safe Work Australia Bill 2008 is a second-best bill. It does not include the amendments that the Liberal-National opposition would like to see included. Despite that, we have decided that it is appropriate to see the legislation implemented, because, frankly, there is more benefit in having the legislation proceed than in having it remain blocked in the parliament. Other speakers representing the opposition have outlined in detail where we are concerned and why we have been upset over the fact that the government has not been prepared to listen to community opinion in this matter. The passage of this bill will, however, on balance, improve an occupational health and safety system across the country, and on that basis the opposition will not be continuing to press for the amendments which were successfully moved and carried in the other place.