Back to All News

Safe Work Australia Bill

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 11 Nov 2008

What the government has not articulated-and I cannot tell this from the communique from the meeting-is just how the Senate's decisions are threatening the harmonisation of OH&S laws. What the Senate did was to insert a clause on objects. I would have thought that was straightforward. That merely points out what this legislation is intended to do-that is, increase the representation of employees and employers. What this legislation did before that was to take us backwards. As Senator Abetz has articulated, this request puts it back to what we had.

Given that this is supposed to be a tripartite approach, I would have thought that the government would have jumped at the chance to have increased representation of employees and employers. It is about removing ministerial discretion, appointing employee and employer representatives and removing the ability of the ministerial council to amend Safe Work Australia's operational and strategic plans. I think this is where we are actually getting to the heart of why the government did not like it. It is removing some of the government's control over Safe Work Australia-that is, state, territory and federal governments. The government said this was supposed to be an independent tripartite body. What the Senate seeks to do is to deliver on the government's rhetoric.

The legislation also removes the power of additional voting rights for government representatives on Safe Work Australia. It removes the power of the minister to direct the CEO contrary to strategic operational plans and the power of the minister to terminate the CEO for unsatisfactory performance. It also includes an audit committee, which we spoke on before. All these are sensible amendments to this legislation. In other words, the Senate was doing its job. It reviewed this legislation, found it wanting and put in place sensible amendments that go to the heart of the matter, which is: putting in place Safe Work Australia to develop model laws and regulations. That is what this is about.

I am having real trouble understanding why this legislation jeopardises the harmonisation of OH&S laws. The fate of that harmonisation is actually up to the Commonwealth and the states. It is very rare, we have to remember, that Senator Abetz and I agree on a whole range of issues. As I said before, I found it difficult to come to terms with. But Senator Abetz asked a very key question, and it is: how long were these issues considered? Were each of the amendments considered on their own merits or was it a case of: ‘We don't like what the Senate's done. They have dared to question the intergovernmental agreement that we reached'? The Senate dared to look at that and found it wanting. We dared to suggest some better rules, some better laws, some improvements to the legislation. We did our job. I would like to know whether each of these amendments were talked about and reviewed. Were the merits of each amendment discussed or was it just a case of saying, ‘They are daring to say something different; therefore, we're going to disagree'? How does this jeopardise harmonisation if it is actually improving the legislation?

Back to All News