Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

12:39 pm

Photo of Anthony ChisholmAnthony Chisholm (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Education) Share this | Hansard source

I'd like to start by thanking senators for their contributions to the debate on the Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022. The bill is a first step towards achieving safer and healthier workplaces in the Commonwealth jurisdiction.

There is still a long way to go. The bill before us implements some important recommendations from the Review of the Model Work Health and Safety Laws conducted by Marie Boland in 2018. Safe Work Australia undertook extensive tripartite consultation seeking feedback on implementing key recommendations of the Boland review. In June 2022 the model work health and safety law was amended in line with this process.

This bill will bring the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act 2011 into line with these updates. There are two changes in particular that I draw to the attention of the Senate. New fault element for category 1 offences: first the bill amends the fault elements for the most serious work health and safety offences to include gross negligence, or negligence to the criminal standard, in addition to recklessness. The Boland review found there have been very few successful prosecutions, in part due to the difficulties associated with proving recklessness. The government is acting on genuine community concerns that employers who put their workers at risk of danger through grossly negligent conduct can escape punishment because the bar for conviction is set too high. Now both reckless and grossly negligent employers who expose workers to serious risk can face the most serious consequences and penalties. The second one is to prohibit insurance for work health and safety penalties. The bill prohibits a person from taking insurance to recover payments made on penalties imposed under work health and safety laws. Having insurance means that you effectively end up in a situation where the penalty is no longer necessarily a disincentive for the employer. The penalty is removed because it's something that has been insured against anyway. We need to make sure that the penalties that are there have an impact on behaviour. Work health and safety offences must remain serious deterrence, and they cannot become a cost of doing business. Those who owe a work health and safety duty should not be able to insulate themselves from the consequences of breaching their duty by putting the safety of their workers and the public at risk.

The government is committed to working closely with the states and territories to deliver safe workplaces for all Australians. This bill takes a first step towards achieving safer and healthier workplaces in the Commonwealth jurisdiction. There is still a lot left to do. Australian workers deserve to be able to go to work and come home safely to their loved ones. I thank all senators who have spoken in support of this legislation and I commend the bill to the Senate.


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