Thursday, 13 October 2011
Work Health and Safety Bill 2011, Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011; Second Reading
Debate resumed on the motion:
That this bill be now read a second time.
It is my pleasure today to speak on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 and the Work Health and Safety (Transitional and Consequential Provisions) Bill 2011. I wish to commence my contribution to this debate by highlighting that the Labor Party has, for a very long time, had a very proud record of supporting people in their workplaces, to ensure that they do have a safe place to go to work and that the employers provide for them all the necessary skills and tools to work within that workplace in a safe way.
Earlier today we were dealing with a private member's piece of legislation that dealt with occupational health and safety issues around firefighters acquiring various cancers as a consequence of the work that they undertake in providing a service to the community and dealing with fires, particularly in structures, and the carcinogens that those firefighters come across.
One of the commitments that Labor took to the 2007 election was to commence a process of harmonising our occupational health and safety laws across this nation. The reason we want to do that is that, despite the fact that we come from a federation, workers are becoming far more mobile than they ever used to be and employers are working across jurisdictions. It is becoming a real problem not only for those workers but also for those employers in having different sets of occupational laws depending in which state a worker might be employed in on any particular day. There are many industries where employees consistently and constantly cross borders, often moving from one jurisdiction to another.
In 2008 we commissioned a review into what model occupational health and safety laws might look like and commenced a process. As a government we received some 242 submissions from state governments and universities, industry groups, individuals and other key stakeholders such as trade unions on what some model occupational health safety laws might look like. I would like to thank all of those who participated in that process. A model act was subsequently developed in September 2009 and was put out for a six-week period for consultation and feedback from all of the stakeholders. Since then we have been working on the necessary legislation and consulting with the states through the ministerial council in terms of those particular laws. And today we are currently debating those draft laws and what they might look like from a Commonwealth perspective.
There will be requirements from the states and territories in order for them to, as they have agreed to do, harmonise their occupational health and safety laws so that they mirror the agreement that we have reached with them. I certainly look forward to the states and territories getting on with that work so that we can develop a consistent set of occupational health and safety laws throughout this nation to provide protection and coverage for workers.
Analysis undertaken by Access Economics estimates that harmonising work health and safety laws will save some 40,000 businesses, which operate across state boundaries, around $179 million per year—providing very substantial savings to the economy, making this nation even more productive. Importantly, this not only will provide great savings for the nation but will also ensure that workers and employers understand more comprehensively the obligations of occupational health and safety and enable the opportunity for employees, particularly those who work across multiple jurisdictions, to have a comprehensive understanding and be able to take measures in accordance with the provisions of these harmonised legislative arrangements to protect their own occupational health safety in work in conjunction, of course, with employers.
In workplaces where occupational health and safety is not a priority, injuries will of course occur. Those injuries are an enormous drain on the productivity of the nation and the productivity of the workplace. It is in everyone's interest that people are protected in the workplace from injury, whether it be physical injury such as back injuries or the like, or whether it be psychological injuries such as stress and the like. It is incumbent on all jurisdictions to work to put in place those arrangements.
(Quorum formed) I might take this opportunity to point out the absolute shameless way that Tony Abbott treated Bernie Banton in the lead-up to the 2007 federal election. Bernie was dying of asbestosis—
Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition back then treated workers who were dying of asbestosis in a shameful way. It was a blight on this nation. Bernie was a worker, as I understand it, who after many years of working on the wharves had developed asbestosis. In 2007 the then Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, now the Leader of the Opposition, made an outrageous claim that Bernie Banton was only doing what he was for political reasons. The reality is that Bernie was dying of a deadly disease that he suffered because of the work that he undertook for many years, particularly, I think, in New South Wales. The reality is that the Liberal Party and Tony Abbott do not care about the rights of workers in the workplace.
Indeed, and I apologise to the House for that. The reality is, of course, that the Liberal Party have no concern for workers in the workplace. The Labor Party do. We have a very proud history of putting in place legislative protection for workers in the workplace to ensure that those workers can earn an income and go home from work free from injury—whether it be injuries such as back injuries, injuries that come from dealing with complicated and dangerous machinery or indeed stress related injuries from things such as excessive workloads or workplace bullying.
The Labor Party continue to deliver on this very proud tradition of putting in place occupational health and safety laws throughout this nation to protect the interests of working families. If the Liberal Party can bring themselves to actually support some legislation that supports workers for once, I look forward to this legislation passing this place and hopefully the Senate. Indeed, I look forward to the states and territories undertaking the necessary legislative reform in their jurisdictions to ensure that harmonisation does truly take place.
As I indicated earlier, Access Economics has indicated that there will be a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of productivity, a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of occupational health and safety costs and, I believe, a very substantial saving to the nation in terms of the costs of dealing with and treating injuries in the workplace. This is good reform. It is reform that is necessary to recognise the complexity of business and the complexity of some 40,000 enterprises now undertaking work in multiple jurisdictions across the Commonwealth.
As I said earlier, the Labor Party have a proud history of putting in place protections for workers and we do treat people like Bernie Banton with the respect that they deserve and ensure that they do have the opportunity to seek compensation, unlike the opposition leader, Tony Abbott, who treated them appallingly.
I rise to support the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011. Workplace health and safety is incredibly important to our nation. Sadly, it does not always receive the attention it deserves. Each year, more than 300 Australians are killed at work and many more die as a result of work-related diseases. In addition to this, a staggering 140,000 Australians are seriously injured at work each year. Workplace death and injury has a devastating effect on individual workers, families, workplaces and our communities. However, I think one of the greatest tragedies in all of this is that many of these incidences at work are preventable. The pain and suffering that happens for these individuals, families and our community need not occur. Between July 2010 and March 2011, 16 people lost their lives as a result of a falling object, 13 people were killed when falling from a great height, 11 were crushed by machinery and eight were electrocuted. It is likely that with the right prevention processes in place these tragedies would not have occurred. I think it is very important that we on this side of the House are actually taking steps to strengthen and harmonise our health and safety.
We have been talking about this for some time. In fact, I think that over the last 10 or 15 years we have been talking about what it would mean to ensure that we had unified health and safety protections in place for workers right around this country. However, it has taken this government to actually start the hard work of ensuring that people are protected wherever they live in the country, and I think this is incredibly important.
When we hear occupational health and safety, people in their workplaces may at times think it is not that important and their eyes may glaze over. I know that as a teenager working in the retail industry I probably did not give the consideration to health and safety that I should have. I look back now at some of the dangerous practices that were engaged in at my workplace. I would stand on the top rung of the ladder and wait for my manager to throw boxes up to me, where I would catch them and put them on top of the overhung shelves. That is just one example. I look back now and think the consequences, if I or anyone else in my workplace fell, would have been devastating, and it was really only one step away. So I think we sometimes do not give it the attention it deserves, but I believe so strongly that we do need to give it more attention and make sure that Australian workplaces are safe places—that when people go off to work they come home alive and uninjured, safe to their families.
Australian workplaces have come a long way in implementing prevention strategies to prevent injuries. A lot of things such as guards, fencing and harnessing have been implemented and we have seen the number of deaths in our workplaces decline, but there is still a lot more to be done. Certainly in my experience when I was working as a representative for retail workers, a lot of shortcuts were still made. I remember one example that was incredibly preventable. I had visited a Hungry Jack's store. There was an employee who had been seriously burnt as a result of hot oil. He was asked to carry that bucket of hot oil—it was a plastic bucket—and he was seriously injured as a result of that. The authorities did pursue that company and they were fined for that incident, but there was a toll for that shortcut that seemed easy at the time. It had serious consequences for that young person.
So I am very pleased today to be speaking on this bill—to work towards a unified workplace health and safety scheme across the whole country. It does have, as the previous speaker said, large impacts to our economy. Unfortunately figures have shown that it is estimated that $34 billion is the cost to our economy of injuries at work.
Employees should not be fatally injured and have this cost to the economy. We should be doing something to improve that. As the previous speaker said, Labor does have a very proud tradition. (Quorum formed)
I was talking about health and safety, but I am going to acknowledge my parents are in the gallery, as well as the prize-winning Dr Jane Wright, who last night won the Prime Minister's award for secondary science teachers. She is my aunt and I am very proud to have her in the gallery. She is an exceptional teacher who inspires young people about science. I want to acknowledge the great work she does at Loreto college.
But I will talk about health and safety, because Labor does have a very, very proud history in this area. This bill will take another step towards doing what the opposition when in government could not do. They could not nationalise and harmonise occupational health and safety. This bill will do a lot to realise this. It is expected that this harmonisation will commence from 1 January 2012 and make many important changes to health and safety regulation. These changes include a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain conditions. This will empower employees to take responsibility for their safety and also motivate employers to maintain a high standard in workplace health and safety.
The primary duty of care will now be extended to persons conducting a business or undertaking. This will produce a broader sphere of protection that applies to all workers, not just employees. Because it should be clear that everyone deserves protection—whether they are hired labour, casual workers or full-time employees—this bill will go towards protecting them. These are very important changes not only for the protection of workers—even though we think that is the paramount importance of health and safety laws—but will also simplify things for businesses. They will take away a lot of red tape, especially if the businesses work across multi-sites in multi-jurisdictions.
This legislation has been talked about for a long time; it is something that will streamline the health and safety system and produce better outcomes for workers and for employers. We know it is the strategy of the opposition today to call quorums and it probably is because they do not see health and safety as an important thing for this House to deal with, but this side of the House does believe it is an incredibly important.
In addition the bill will include provisions to deal with issues specific to the Commonwealth. In particular, it will extend the application of work health and safety laws to members of the Defence Force and other persons deemed to be employees for the purposes of the current OH&S Act. It will enable the Chief of the Defence Force and Director-General of Security to disregard specific matters with the minister's agreement, which has not previously been required. The bill also establishes Comcare as the sole regulator of OH&S in the Commonwealth. This change to the current situation is unique to the Commonwealth, whereby Comcare and the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission have shared regulatory powers. This will simplify our health and safety system; it will ensure that responsibilities are clear; it will ensure that people, including contractors, employees of contractors, sub-contractors—I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired.)
It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Corangamite and the lovely hardworking member for Kingston, whose parents are up in the gallery, in speaking on the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011. The interesting thing to note is that not one of the opposition members is speaking on workplace health and safety. When it comes to the crunch in caring about workers and their families, they fail Australians miserably. I am surprised we have had quorums called by the member for Gippsland, given the amount of workers in his electorate that he has left high and dry and fails to look after and support.
I am happy to withdraw for you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I certainly do not want to get the little precious petal upset anymore.
As members are undoubtedly aware, the regulatory impact statement for the harmonisation of health and safety regulations confirmed that the national OHS system will bring many benefits, including economic benefits delivering up to $2 billion a year in productivity gains.
Over the past three years Labor has worked in cooperation with various stakeholders such as the states and territories, business groups and the ever-valuable ACTU to achieve a new legislative framework which will replace nine separate OHS acts and over 400 pieces of occupational health and safety regulation. This is an important step because I know that in my own state of Victoria and in New South Wales there are many cross-border issues involving jurisdictions, permits and safety regulations that people face every day working in businesses along the borders between the states. Through the measures in this bill we will eliminate the confusion, complication and higher costs for small businesses along those borders and probably along all state borders across the country.
As the member for Kingston said, it has taken a Labor government to do this because it is Labor that cares about the health and safety of workers. It is Labor that understands that, by undertaking these measures, we are enhancing safety protections for all Australian workers and their families and giving greater certainty and protection for all workplace parties.
Nationally harmonising work health and safety laws was first raised by the Whitlam government back in 1974. So while the genesis for this is very old, the arguments in favour of harmonisation remain very compelling to this day. It is important because around 300 Australians are killed at work each year. It is tragic that 300 people go to work each day, and then one day they do not come home. That is an appalling thing to think of, for their families, their friends and their communities and also for the employers. I know many employers of people who have been injured or have died at work suffer greatly, both physically and mentally, as a result of the issues raised when they lost a valuable part of their team. Many more workers die as a result of workplace related diseases, as the member for Corangamite mentioned earlier, and some 135,000 Australians are seriously injured at work.
I said in my maiden speech that I thought workplace safety and bullying are two of the most abhorrent things we can see in this country. I think back to the time when I was doing my apprenticeship in a shoemaking factory. We had absolutely no workplace health and safety. We were using glues and solvents with no fumigation, no breathing protection, no nothing. We were there at 7.30 in the morning and we did not leave until 4.30; we just sat there and worked away. There were machines that did not have guards. The amount of injuries we used to see happening every day, from minor injuries right through to major ones, was absolutely terrible. That is what started me on my journey to here, thinking that we need to address these things. We need to make sure that when people go to work each and every day they are going to come home safe. It has been a belief of mine that we can never go far enough to make sure that Australians go to work and have a safe, happy and responsible workplace and, of course, that they get remunerated properly for the jobs they do.
We know that the cost of workplace related injury and illness to our economy has been estimated at nearly six per cent of our GDP. We also know, as I said, that the cost to families, friends and others is immeasurable. Therefore, I believe that this bill is necessary as it contains new and tougher provisions, which include significant penalties for those who fail to meet their obligations for work health and safety.
The Minister for Regional Australia, Regional Development and Local Government stated in the second reading speech that there are three categories of penalties in this bill, based on the degree of culpability and risk. Category 1 offences, involving proven recklessness, attract a maximum fine of $3 million for bodies corporate and a maximum fine of $600,000 or a maximum of five years imprisonment or both for individuals. Category 2 offences, involving breaches of health and safety duties which expose another person to risk of death or serious injury or illness, attract a maximum fine of $1.5 million for bodies corporate or $300,000 for individuals. Category 3 offences apply for any breach of a health and safety duty, with a maximum fine of $500,000 for bodies corporate and $100,000 for individuals.
As was mentioned before, those opposite did not support the workers during their 11 long years in government. But it is Labor who have come out and said we will protect Australian jobs and Australian families. This bill implements our commitment in 2008 at COAG that all jurisdictions would harmonise health and safety laws. My home state of Victoria will benefit from $50 million in reward payments if these reforms are implemented by 1 January 2012. As I said, this bill will deliver real, tangible economic benefits: $2 billion in productivity gains and around $250 million per year in additional benefits arising from reducing red tape and improving the safety standards for workers.
In 2008 the government established an independent panel to conduct the national review into model occupational health and safety laws. This review panel examined very closely work health and safety laws in each state and territory and the Commonwealth. As the minister correctly outlined in his second reading speech, this bill seeks to secure the health and safety of workers and workplaces through the elimination or minimisation of risks, fair and effective representation, consultation, cooperation and issue resolution, provision of advice, information, education and training, and effective and appropriate compliance and enforcement measures. What we have got is a government that is delivering a whole package on these things to ensure that there is no excuse for not having a safe workplace. There is no excuse for not being able to allow people to go to work, to perform their duties in a safe environment and then to come home to be with their families. The definition of 'worker' will be extended to include persons who are currently deemed to be employees of the Commonwealth such as our valued members of the ADF and holders of a Commonwealth statutory office.
Comcare, under this bill, is established as the single regulator for work, health and safety in the Commonwealth and will operate under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission. The commission will play an important role in overseeing the role of Comcare, which will have responsibility for day-to-day regulatory functions. Unlike those opposite who show no genuine care about workers—and that is why they will not put on the record their support for this legislation—we are getting on with the job and delivering tougher national standards to ensure every Australian worker has the rights and safety they deserve and are entitled to in a workplace.
The harmonisation of work, health and safety laws will be continually enforced by regulators, facilitating a stronger partnership with business to minimise the risks of workplace injuries and deaths. The benefits of harmonisation are great. The analysis undertaken by Access Economics estimates that harmonising work, health and safety laws will save the 40,000 businesses that operate across state boundaries around $179 million per annum. The model WHS legislation will provide enhanced safety protection for workers which is simple and easy to understand. The same rights and protections will be afforded to workers regardless of where their work is carried out. Labour mobility will be increased by providing recognition of licences and training across all jurisdictions. This is very important in today's economy, where we have a growing number of fly-in fly-out, drive-in drive-out workers, so that when people are mobile and move from state to state they can be assured they will have the same workplace safety and that the qualifications they have will be recognised.
The duties contained in the model legislation will also ensure that all workers are provided with protections while at work, whether they are employees, contractors or labour-hire workers, outworkers—who we know in the past have been treated very poorly—apprentices, trainees, work experience students and volunteers through the expanded definition of 'worker' supported by a new compliance regime.
The bill implements the model legislation agreed to by the WRMC in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. Mirror laws are to be introduced by each state and territory to also implement these model laws. As the model legislation has been drafted in non-jurisdictional specific terms, the bill includes specific provisions to ensure that the model provisions can operate alongside other Commonwealth legislation without affecting harmonisation. The bill has also been subject to a further three-week consultation period on an exposure draft. Employers covered by the Commonwealth legislation were invited to comment, as were the ACTU and members of the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission. In response, some 29 submissions were received and the comments made have been taken into account in finalising the bill.
The reforms will repeal and replace the current Commonwealth Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991, the OHS Act. The coverage of the bill remains similar to the OHS Act insofar as it will apply only to Commonwealth public authorities and, for a transitional period, non-Commonwealth licensees. The bill contains a mechanism allowing the minister to transfer OHS coverage of non-Commonwealth licensees to state and territory jurisdictions. It is intended that this power only be exercised once harmonised laws are implemented in each jurisdiction.
By implementing the agreed model bill, there will be some important changes to OHS regulation in the Commonwealth. They are: providing a wider coverage of contemporary work relationships, including contractors; a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain circumstances; tougher penalties for failing to meet a duty of care; a removal of Commonwealth immunity from criminal prosecution; and a wider range of enforcement options, including infringement notices, remedial orders, adverse publicity orders, training orders and orders for restoration.
In addition, the bill will include provisions to deal with issues specific to the Commonwealth. It will extend the application of work, health and safety laws to members of the Defence Force and other persons currently deemed to be employees for the purpose of the current OHS Act; enable the Chief of the Defence Force and the Director-General of Security to disapply specified provisions of the act with the agreement of the minister with responsibility for work, health and safety matters—the minister's agreement has not previously been required; and establish Comcare as the sole regulator of OHS in the Commonwealth. This is a change to the current situation whereby Comcare and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission share regulatory powers.
Since WRMC endorsement of the model act as at 24 June 2011, two jurisdictions have passed new work health and safety legislation. The Queensland WHS act received royal assent on 6 June 2011 and the New South Wales WHS act received royal assent on 7 June 2011. The South Australian WHS bill has been introduced into the South Australian parliament and the Australian Capital Territory's WHS bill has been introduced. What we need is the rest of the states, like Victoria, to stop dragging the chain, to get up and to look after worker safety right across this country. I wish this bill a very speedy passage.
Prior to my election to this place I was a lawyer and a union official. As such, I had the responsibility of representing workers who were injured at work. I had the very grave duty of having to visit grieving families who were suffering after the death or terrible injury of a loved one. I campaigned alongside the now member for Charlton and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency for justice for the victims of asbestos injury. I campaigned also alongside the late and great Bernie Banton to see justice for those who are victims of James Hardie asbestos diseases. It is for these reasons that I am very, very pleased indeed to be standing here today as part of the Gillard Labor government, talking in favour of this legislation.
It will be to their eternal and national shame that we have not seen one speaker from those opposite stand in this place and talk about the benefits of this bill and the importance of the subject matter. I thought for a moment that maybe those opposite might have been busy somewhere else, doing something else, talking on other matters of importance in this debate, but a quick scanning of parliamentary legislative lists in other places shows no such thing is constraining these members. I think that it is a national shame that we have not seen those opposite talking on this matter. Perhaps they should draw their attention to the fact that in this country it is still true that we have more than four workers each week who die at work. That is almost one every second day. We see thousands more injured at work or travelling to or from work.
Perhaps they might be interested to know that as a result of the passage of this legislation we will be reducing the administrative burden on businesses. They are always talking about the administrative burden on businesses, but when they have got the opportunity to get involved and do something, to be proactive about reducing that administrative burden on business, they are seen to be wanting. Access Economics estimate that there will be about a $179 million—that is close to $180 million—reduction in administrative costs to business as a result of this legislation and you would think that those opposite might show a bit more interest in the subject matter of the bill. But let that be upon their heads. I am very pleased to be talking about this important subject matter.
Mr Deputy Speaker Adams, you would know, as a former worker yourself and somebody who has taken a keen interest in this area, that all Australian health and safety around the modern regime of occupational health and safety laws is built upon the foundation set by the Robens report. (quorum formed) Before I was interrupted by the antics of those opposite—our framework of health and safety regulation in this country is built upon the report of Lord Robens who, in 1972, chaired the committee of inquiry. In the committee's words, it can be summarised as follows:
The primary responsibility for doing something about the present levels of occupational accidents and disease lies with those who create the risks and those who work with them.
Fundamental to this framework was ensuring that workers in the workplace were empowered to ensure that they could stand up and challenge their employers when they encountered risks to their occupational health and safety in the workplace. Everything that we have done since the reporting by Lord Robens and his committee in all jurisdictions around Australia has been built upon that fundamental point: that empowering workers to take charge of their occupational health and safety in the workplace is fundamental to reducing the risks, the injuries, the disease and the fatalities that may otherwise occur in the workplace. So I am very pleased to be speaking in favour of this legislation.
It will of course provide a wider coverage of contemporary work relationships, including contractors, employees of contractors, subcontractors, labour hire workers, apprentices and volunteers. It essentially acknowledges that the workforce and the nature of employment relationships have changed over the last two decades, and that our occupational health and safety regulation needs to be modernised to encompass that. It provides a new statutory right for workers to cease unsafe work in certain circumstances. It provides tougher penalties for failing to meet a duty of care. It removes Commonwealth immunity from criminal prosecution and provides a wider range of enforcement options, including infringement notices, remedial orders, adverse publicity orders, training orders and orders for restoration.
But most importantly, it creates the framework for creating a uniform national code for occupational health and safety legislation in this country. This is your classic win-win. It provides a uniform set of rights and protections for workers and it removes the administrative overburden that is associated with creating those rights for employees. It is something that all members in this House should celebrate, get behind, and vote in favour of.
In summing up this debate, I would like to congratulate all members for their contributions to the debate, including those from the opposition who spoke last night. I think there is strong and important bipartisan support for this. Obviously, this is something very dear to the heart of those who sit on this side of the House. It is something we have campaigned for for a very long time. As a former general secretary of a great trade union and as President of the ACTU, this is an agenda that we have been pursuing for some considerable time. In fact, one of the very early disputes that I was involved in with the Storemen and Packers Union was with wool storemen around the weights of bales. There were far too many wool storemen injured because of excessive weights. Because of the nature of the industry, growers were seeking to increase the size of the bales. We put a limit of 204 kilos on them. If that was exceeded it was reduced to 180 kilos. That had a significant impact, not only in terms of lessening the industry. It also led significantly to important mechanisation within the industry and a much safer work environment for what is and always has been a vital industry for this nation's future.
Although the Work Health and Safety Bill 2011 currently before the parliament applies largely to Commonwealth public sector employment, it does form a crucial part of the Australian government's commitment to nationally harmonise work health and safety laws. This is an agenda item that was pursued with great determination by the current Prime Minister when she was Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in our last term. Quite apart from getting rid of that dreaded Work Choices legislation, ensuring that we were moving in the direction of harmonised work health and safety laws was a key achievement of hers in the portfolio.
The bill gives effect to the national framework proposed by the Council of Australian Governments. It was developed in a tripartite way with the involvement of not just the Commonwealth but all state and territory governments, business groups and the ACTU. This is a reflection of tripartism at work. It is a commitment to address a key issue and get agreement despite difficult issues surrounding it. It also brings Australia one step closer to having a nationally harmonised system of work health and safety laws by 2012. This bill complements legislation being enacted across all Australian states and territories. It will lead to enhanced work health and safety protections for Australian workers and greater certainty for business. Make no mistake, these are landmark reforms which have been long in the making. What we have here is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide all Australian workers with the same protections, regardless of where they live and where they work, and to overcome the frustration and complexity faced by businesses of nine different occupational health and safety legal systems and standards.
When I introduced the legislation on behalf of the minister in this House in favour of occupational health and safety harmonisation I gave great detail on the background as to how we got to where we did. In fact, it was exhaustive detail. I will not repeat them here but they were compelling arguments. An enormous amount of work has been put into this and it is incumbent upon this House to give effect to them. Reform and harmonisation of Australian work health and safety laws was made possible because the Australian government forged that constructive working partnership with the states, business and the ACTU. Getting consensus on the content of a new legislative framework that can be adopted by all jurisdictions has been no easy task. Each of the parties came to the table with strong views about the content of the model of work health and safety laws. Amendments have been proposed and we will move to consider them in detail after the second reading. It is not that the parties did not consider the various proposals that are now reflected in the amendments. They did. I made the point before: there were areas of disagreement and tripartite negotiations always result in a level of compromise. As much as people might consider the importance of those amendments when they are moving them, in their view to strengthen the legislation, what they cannot ignore is the importance of arriving at the consensus that we have. I do not question the motives of those who put the amendments forward but simply say that they do not reflect the agreement. If they are passed by this House they risk upsetting that agreement and therefore the movement to harmonisation, given that we have to move these things not just here but through the states.
In many cases there were compromises. It is a credit to all of those involved that they persevered with the process over the past three years in particular. Each jurisdiction will face changes in current occupational health and safety arrangements in order to achieve the goal of uniform OH&S laws. What the parties have been able to agree represents the best possible outcome: a balanced and interrelated package of measures that will lead to enhanced safety protections for all Australian workers and greater certainty and protections for all workplace parties. Certain members have indicated that they will be moving amendments and I will respond to the detail of those when they are moved. I again make the point that members in the Australian government have signed up to play our part in implementing what has been long needed—a nationally harmonised OH&S system. This means having a Commonwealth work health and safety act which accords with the model work health and safety act endorsed by the Workplace Relations Ministers Council in December 2009.
The bill before the parliament honours this commitment made under a COAG intergovernmental agreement and, accordingly, we will not be supporting the amendments. I urge other members to do likewise. This bill is only the first step towards a nationally harmonised system of legislation. The harmonisation process will also include model regulations and codes of practice that are expected to be finalised at the national level later this year. The process to develop national regulations is again a collaborative one, being achieved in partnership with governments, employees and employer bodies.
It has been suggested that we should delay consideration of this bill until the model regulations have been finalised. However, I point out the task before the parliament today is to consider the model bill, not the model regulations. The parliament will have the opportunity to separately consider the regulations and the accompanying regulation impact statement for the regulations once they are before parliament. So parliament is not being denied that opportunity. This model bill should not be delayed because delaying the passage of this bill in order to simply consider the regulation impact statement is a circular argument. Those regulations cannot be made until the bill is passed.
The bill itself has been subject to a national regulation impact statement prepared by Access Economics. This analysis showed that the adoption of the model Work Health and Safety Act across Australia is expected to benefit multijurisdictional businesses as well as confer an overall net benefit to the nation in the order of $180 million. In other words, this is a win-win outcome. It is a win for workers because they have a safer environmental framework in which to work. It is a win for businesses because they save money lost in down time through workers being injured and away from work.
The content of the bill has also been subject to exhaustive consultation over the past three years and it has been endorsed not only by the other government jurisdictions but also by the industry stakeholders. Key industry groups—ACCI, AiG, the MBA—have all welcomed the introduction of this bill into the Commonwealth parliament and have strongly urged members to pass the legislation. Importantly, other jurisdictions are getting on with the job of implementing their model bills. Five out of nine jurisdictions, including the Commonwealth, have put the model laws before their parliaments. Legislation has already passed in both Queensland and New South Wales.
Against that background, I thank members for their contributions. After we move into consideration in detail I will respond to the particular amendments. This is an outcome well worth waiting for, but it should have been done a long time ago. We are proud to be associated with a government that introduces this legislation following the processes that have led to the bill. I commend the bill to the House.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.