Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

11:48 am

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022 is purportedly about safety and health, but what it's truly about is control and enabling injection mandates, vaccine mandates. This sets up the power to be able to do so. I want to read a text message from the parent of a daughter who's been mandated out of work out right now: 'Here is the text I received from my daughter tonight, after a Zoom meeting with the Nurses Professional Association of Queensland on the findings of the Industrial Relations Commission in Queensland. She is gutted and feels she does not deserve further discrimination or punishment from Queensland Health. This government'—the Labor government in Queensland—'may pursue staff even after they resign, causing them untold mental, social and economic stress. It appears Queensland Health believe these staff numbers have not suffered enough due to them refusing to take an experimental gene therapy based injection and wish to punish them some more. This is vindictive in the extreme.'

Here is the text from her daughter: 'Hi, Mum, I'm going to aim for bed early. I'm emotionally very tired today, especially after the Zoom meeting today. It was a long meeting. They essentially said that if we didn't apply initially for a special exemption, in the first instance, medical or religious, then they have exhausted all options for the PSAs through the Industrial Relations Commission. We can continue to have them represent us if we wish, as they will likely be appealing the recent decision, but they also said it is now a good time to resign to prevent being terminated and having that appear on a person's record.

They also said Queensland Health can continue to pursue disciplinary action against me even after I've resigned. They recommend resigning in the next few days, before they start the termination process. I've sent all questions, after I've re-checked them, into the main information hub also of the union for a response. I tried to ask a few within the meeting but only got one answer and there were many questions coming in the meeting. There are many people affected. People are getting swamped. So I'm considering resigning by the end of the week if not tomorrow. I will hopefully have some more answers after they respond to the questions, especially around the degree of legal, financial or professional impact disciplinary processes we'll have if they go the whole hog on me. I'm tired—I'm tired of having it hang over my head, especially when I feel so undeserving of this treatment and I gave all that I had and more to health and my work.'

That's coming from a 20-year-old graduate nurse. That's disgraceful. Safety is the No. 1 priority of any person in any business, not just for moral reasons, which are at the top, but also for commercial reasons. Safety saves money and increases productivity and profits. That is still to be understood in many companies, sadly, around this country and amongst many union bosses. But safety is abused. It's exploited by some employers, it's exploited by some union bosses—calling strikes over safety issues when they can't get their way industrially—and now we see that this government is abusing it.

The TGA bill gives sweeping powers to the secretary of the federal health department. COVID was a trial of controls, and what this bill does is give further control to the secretary of the federal health department. What troubles me is what they are trying to do, which is to completely abolish the drug approval process and all of the safety testing that goes along with that. Now we want to coerce employers into vaccine mandates, with these controls, in this bill.

After decades of simulations and preparation, which included Ahpra being set up in 2008, we had control of the medical system in enabling vaccine mandates in this country. We have just survived the United Nations World Health Organization's attempt to have international health regulations. And that was defeated—because of a grassroots movement, which we were proudly part of, around the world. It wasn't just us but around the world. We're now looking down the barrel of the United Nations World Health Organization's pandemic treaty.

What you're doing with the TGA bill and with this bill is setting them up for foreign entities, like the UN World Health Organization, to come in here and take over. That's part of the eternal human battle of control versus freedom. Always, One Nation is on the side of freedom. So far we've seen the United Nations and World Economic Forum alliance on the side of control, pushing through Greens policies that Labor adopts and the Liberals and Nationals adopt: energy and climate—killing our economy and our country's future; COVID-19—killing our country, killing thousands of people and killing our economy; water—stealing rights to use water and stealing rights to use property; and contradicting the data—what we have here is the enablement of mandates so that employers will be forced to mandate treatments, and they'll face serious fines if they don't. We have two amendments to protect employers and remove vaccine mandates. If they pass, we will support this bill. If they do not, we will vote against it.

Let me tell you something. Some people ask whether I'm antivax. I am quite clearly not antivax. I am pro-medicine. We all want safe treatment. We are all pro-medicine. We all want to decide for ourselves what is put into our body. We all want freedom to make our own choice and for that choice to be accepted. We all wholeheartedly support medicines that are fully tested and proven safe, effective, affordable and, preferably, available. But I am completely opposed to making it mandatory to take an untested drug to engage in life and earning a living and—what's worse—stopping our children from eating because the breadwinner is out of work due to a vaccine mandate: 'If you want to eat, then you'll have to take this shot.' We totally oppose coercion. We are totally antimandate. We are pro-choice, freedom of choice, and I'm happy to be the placebo on any of these tests.

Labor, Liberal, the Nationals and the Greens have confirmed they're pushing control. We saw the Liberals and Nationals push, enable and drive vaccine mandates in the last parliament. Now we're seeing Labor do it through workplace health and safety. We will continue to work for workers and small and medium-sized enterprise businesses. We will fight for workers' rights and we will fight for families. We will oppose this bill unless our amendments get through. We will continue to support our sovereignty. We will continue to support our economic security. We will continue to support honest governance based on solid data and facts. We will oppose this bill unless the amendments are satisfactory.

11:57 am

Photo of Fatima PaymanFatima Payman (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to support the Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022. In 2018, Marie Boland conducted a review of the model work health and safety laws. I acknowledge her considered examination, and I acknowledge the families, having lost loved ones at work, who spoke with or wrote to Ms Boland. Those families have fought tirelessly to improve the system that let them down to ensure other families don't have to face the same tragedy. Marie Boland's report provided 34 important recommendations, and unfortunately not one of those requiring legislative change was implemented by the Commonwealth. The former government let it languish, but this bill changes that.

It is a shame that the former coalition government didn't manage to implement the report's recommendations, but it's not surprising. They have never been able to grasp the simple concept that workers deserve a safe workplace. To me and my Labor colleagues, understanding the importance of work health and safety comes easily. We naturally relate to and understand the issues because of our own experiences and the experiences of our loved ones and because we listen to workers and their representatives. However, for those on the other side of the chamber, this issue has not been a priority. Is it because they're out of touch with everyday Australians? Is it because of ideological stubbornness?

This week, during question time, the opposition has been ranting and raving and trying to stir up fear in the community, all because of our proposal to make a modest change to the tax concessions on superannuation for those who have more than $3 million in their accounts. Where was this passion when the Boland report was handed down under your government? Why do we see this level of hysteria only now, when it comes to this proposal that would not impact 99.5 per cent of Australians, but never when it concerns improving the work health and safety at workplaces across the country for millions of workers? Those on the other side could have risen to the moment but instead have chosen to stoke fear and division. The only reason that comes to my mind is that they're completely out of touch with everyday Australians.

Well, thankfully, the adults are back in charge, and this government is putting the decade of division behind us to focus on improving the lives of all Australians. This bill is just the first step of these important reforms from the Boland review, because the Albanese government is taking work health and safety seriously. The health and safety of workers is something I and every Labor member and senator will always prioritise. Throughout our party's history we have always prioritised workers' safety, and it is central to our existence. Every worker has the right to a safe workplace, free from mistreatment, and to come home to their loved ones.

I remember when my father worked tirelessly around the clock to put food on the table for my family and the mistreatment he spoke of at times. He has worked in hospitality, as a kitchen hand, as a security guard, as a taxi driver, as a cleaner—you name it. English was not his first language, yet when he arrived in this country on a boat, with the clothes on his back, he worked hard to establish for us a life that he wasn't able to have. And he wasn't going to let language barriers get in the way of that. A life of peace and security in a country full of opportunities for his young growing family is what he aspired towards. Little did he know that it wasn't going to be as easy as that. He was paid below the minimum wage and was often asked to worked ridiculously long hours, but Dad didn't complain. He was asked to complete dangerous tasks that posed a threat to his health and wellbeing, but Dad didn't complain. The imbalance of power my dad experienced often meant he was tolerating and copping mistreatment and abuse from his employer, but Dad didn't complain. Perhaps he didn't know who to turn to for help. His only focus was putting food on the table and a roof over our heads and paying for our education.

Was he asking for too much? Did he deserve that poor treatment? Isn't aspiring for a better future something that every Australian family dreams about and has the right to do? I remember asking him why he didn't quit and find another job, and all Dad would say was, 'I accept this hardship so that you can focus on your studies and get into a profession with job security and so that you don't have to go through what I'm going through.' So, I'll never forget my dad's sacrifices, and I honour his struggles.

It wasn't long before I realised that my dad wasn't alone in his struggles. During my time as an organiser for the United Workers Union I saw his experience reflected in the lives of many workers, from cleaners to hospitality workers and everything in between. As an organiser I spent my time fighting for improvements for workers' rights and conditions, including standing with aged-care workers when they went on strike for a pay rise. I heard so many heartbreaking stories from these dedicated workers who have served our nation's most vulnerable and elderly for so long.

After 48 years as an aged-care worker, Jude Clarke was tired of the job cuts, hour cuts, increased workloads and high turnover of staff, with fewer care hours and obviously more profits for CEOs. She believed that workers and the elderly who were being taken care of deserved respect, dignity and time. She would say that the residents should never be hurried or told to wait because she was too busy. She said: 'We as workers deserve more time to say our hellos and our last goodbyes. Sometimes we are the only family these residents have. Is that too much to ask for?'

After being assaulted by a high-care dementia resident, another worker, Emma Bowers, was left traumatised and could not return to work. Even though the cut had healed, the damage was done. She recalls: 'I was tending to a male patient in the high-care dementia ward at an aged-care facility when I was assaulted, hit on my forehead, and I only realised I was injured when I saw blood flowing down my face. My initial thought of concern was towards the resident—to make sure he is safe and not hurt.' This was due to the understaffing of that facility. She went on to say, 'If we had enough staff we would not be put in situations where our health and safety is at risk.'

These are just two examples of workers' struggles out of the thousands who are going through this every day, and they deserve our attention. As a Labor senator I am so proud to be part of the team that delivered a pay rise for those workers and the team committed to fixing aged care under the leadership of Minister Anika Wells. I acknowledge the years of campaigning from United Workers Union members and the dedication of the union members across the country to improving workplace health and safety.

This brings me to recall the conversations I had last year in August with workers from the Pfizer manufacturing facility in Western Australia. They were on strike for 24 hours, asking for only a $1.60 an hour pay rise from Pfizer, who paid their Victorian counterparts significantly more. Surely they weren't asking for anything outrageous. Many workers have been working at that facility for over a decade and having to fight against casualisation of the workforce. I spoke to Chipo, Raymond and Tariq, who explained that workers relied on penalty rates and overtime to be able to make ends meet. They have to work long hours, which keeps them away from their families. When they're home they're exhausted, they struggle to sleep and they have no energy to spend time with their children. Exhaustion is not a healthy state to return to work in, and their health is on the line but so is the health of the millions of Australians who rely on these Pfizer workers.

My central belief that all workers deserve safe and secure jobs is what drove me to become politically active, and I know that my Labor colleagues share the same belief. Workplaces that allow consultation and cooperation, that have a culture of fairness, that respect diversity and that promote equality are healthy and safe workplaces. So far we have passed the secure jobs, better pay legislation and implemented the recommendations of the Respect@Work report to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, importantly, placing the positive duty on employers to make sure their workplaces are free from victimisation, bullying and harassment. We are completely on the side of workers, and we know this requires our ongoing attention. Ultimately, we want to ensure that everyone who goes to work can come home safely, and we are dedicated to that mission.

This bill will make amendments to align the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Act with the recently amended model Work Health and Safety Act published by Safe Work Australia as recommended by the Boland review. It will strengthen and promote a consistent national approach to managing work health and safety and will ensure that Safe Work Australia can receive relevant information to perform its research and policy development roles. It demonstrates that we are committed to ensuring all Australians are protected by consistent work health and safety conditions.

This bill expands the most serious offence under the Commonwealth's current work health and safety laws to include negligence as a fault element. This means that employers who expose their workers to serious risks that are both reckless and grossly negligent will face the most serious consequences. This bill will also prevent someone required to pay a penalty under the law from recovering the penalty under insurance, which means that businesses cannot simply build serious work health and safety incidents into the cost of doing business. The wellbeing of every worker should be a priority for employers, and businesses should not be able to build into budgets the cost of an unsafe workplace. This will ensure work health and safety remains at the forefront for employers and is taken seriously.

This is an important set of reforms from the Boland review. And, while this bill does not implement an industrial manslaughter offence or increase penalties for work health and safety offences, which were recommended in the Boland review, the Labor Party remains committed to that reform. I want to acknowledge Minister Tony Burke's effort, leadership and work in this area. This government is serious about improving work health and safety in Australia because we know that even one death is too many. The risk of an unsafe workplace is too great to be tolerated, and we know that it can destroy a person's life and the lives of their loved ones. There is more work to do, and this bill is just the start of the reforms that will have a positive impact on the safety of Australian workers and their workplaces. We're getting on with the job, not wasting a single second, because, as a Labor government, we are committed to delivering safe workplaces for all Australians.

Every person elected to this place should support this bill, because we should all be able to agree that improving the work health and safety for Australians is a good thing and that every worker should be able to go to work and come home to their loved ones safely. I am very proud to have come from a union background, to have become politically active fighting for workers' rights. I'm also proud to have been elected as part of the Albanese Labor government to be trusted by Western Australians to build a better future for all, and so I am proud to support this bill.

12:11 pm

Photo of Ralph BabetRalph Babet (Victoria, United Australia Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak regarding the Work Health and Safety Amendment Bill 2022. This bill provides a perfect opportunity for our parliament, all of us here, to remedy a great injustice. That injustice is the injustice of vaccine mandates. For much too long in our country hardworking Australians have been discriminated against by employers, by authorities, by everyone really. These employees are dedicated and highly skilled Australians, but you know what's happened? They've been shut out of careers that they love. That's what's happened—just completely shut out from careers they have given long, dedicated years of service to. As an example, nurses, teachers, firefighters and volunteers. I'm sure you've all seen in the past where volunteers weren't able to go and fill sandbags because they weren't vaccinated. Ridiculous! We've created division amongst our people, an unneeded division, which has torn apart family members, friends, colleagues, even strangers.

The Australian Human Rights Commission states:

The guiding human rights principles for considering measures taken to advance public health are:

      Mandatory vaccination policies, and the accompanying use of vaccine passports and certificates, have significant implications for freedom of movement and association, access to everyday goods and services, privacy and autonomy, and equity and discrimination.

      Vaccine passports and certificates are more likely to be consistent with human rights principles when they are used as a tool to ease more burdensome lockdown restrictions and improve public health outcomes.

      I ask you all in this place to think long and hard about the words that I just quoted directly from our Human Rights Commission. Mandates are an egregious abuse of basic human rights, and this bill provides an opportunity to prohibit mandates once and for all. Why have mandates been put in place? In the name of science, apparently.

      We were told that mRNA injections through mandates were necessary to stop transmission and to end the pandemic. That's what we were told. We were told that it would save lives and it was the only solution. That's what was said.

      Now, a study funded by none other than the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and published in The Lancet found that the level of protection from past infection is at least equivalent to if not greater than two doses of mRNA vaccine. I use the term 'vaccine' loosely. These COVID vaccines have potentially dangerous side effects, and I keep harping on about this every chance I get. You've all heard me talk about it before. As Dr Marty Makary, Professor of Surgery and Health Policy at Johns Hopkins University, said in sworn testimony before the United States House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic: 'Myocarditis is six to 28 times more common after the COVID vaccine than after COVID infection among 16- to 24-year-old males.'

      Debate interrupted.