Time for Victoria, WA to embrace OHS reform

In April 2008, the then Federal Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard announced a national review into model occupational health and safety laws. A review panel in January 2009 submitted its recommendations to the Workplace Relations Ministers? Council (comprising all State and Territory workplace relations ministers) and in April that year, the WMRC agreed to implement a framework for uniform OHS laws, including regulations and codes of practice, for adoption by all jurisdictions. In December 2009, the WMRC endorsed the Model Work Health and Safety Act and agreed that the uniform OHS regime would take effect around Australia from 1 January, 2012. Each State and Territory would pass separate Acts in their jurisdictions to implement the regime.

Under the model Act, officers of a corporation will be required to exercise due diligence to ensure the organisation complies with OHS responsibilities while companies will have broader obligations to consult with people performing work, including contractors. Prosecutors will also be required to prove an employer did not take all reasonably practicable measures to prevent the risk to health and safety from occurring, reversing the onus of proof from previous State-based OHS Acts.
The requirements for OHS management systems for extractive operations, including quarries, may yet surpass the provisions of the harmonised OHS Act. It has long been acknowledged that quarrying and mining, in collaboration with State Governments, will seek separate regulation for mining-specific hazards. The IQA?s Products Committee, has contributed to the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF) and a member of that committee, Graham Terrey, is on the NMSF Steering Group.
As of November 2011, the Federal, ACT, New South Wales and Queensland Parliaments have passed Acts to adopt the harmonised OHS model. Separate bills were before the South Australian, Northern Territory and Tasmanian Parliaments. However, Victoria and Western Australia, despite pledging support for harmonisation, will not introduce bills to their parliaments until well into the New Year. They have urged the Federal Government to delay the operation of the new regime so they can have ?more time? to assess the impact of the harmonised model Act, even though it has been on the table with the WMRC since December 2009.
It seems that we are witnessing the usual grandstanding of Commonwealth/State relations. The Victorian and WA Governments seem to be hindering the introduction of a harmonised OHS system for no other reason than partisan and State interests. In the process, they are flying in the face of industry groups that support a uniform system, including the Australian Industry Group (AiG) and the Minerals Council of Australia.
To stymie the harmonised OHS regime is to thwart reform. As the AiG has argued, if Victoria and WA are committed to OHS harmonisation, then why have they not legislated the model Act while retaining the option of a later operational date?
For both Victoria and WA, proud OHS champions in the last two decades, to be out of step on this issue, and after two years of deliberation, is indefensible. Health and safety laws should not be compromised and delays to the operation of the new regime are an impost on Victorian and WA businesses, including extractive operations.
This grandstanding also fuels the view of cynics (like myself!) that in this country we are over-governed and State Governments by the day are proving themselves redundant! This view may be grossly unjust to the State and Territory safe work authorities and energy, resources and primary industries departments with whom the quarrying industry enjoys solid working relationships. Nevertheless, it reinforces my point that the intransigence of State Governments (not necessarily the bureaucracies that work under them) more often than not derails good policy. Good governance does not come without responsibility.

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