The New South Wales Industrial Relations Minister, John Della Bosca is a linchpin in the move for harmonisation of OHS law in Australia.
All attention is on New South Wales as it is said to have OHS laws that are the most onerous on employers. Employer groups are calling for a greater preventative focus and more cooperation on improving workplace safety, specifically those areas of conflict that employer groups have in New South Wales.
Della Bosca supports the New South Wales OHS regime, at least lately he does, in reaction to the employer groups wanting, according to the Minister, a “version of harmonisation…aimed at reducing safety standards and eliminating the strong NSW laws.”
The NSW Minerals Council, reported in the Australian Financial Review on 13 June 2008 (page 19 sorry, there is no online reference), has concerns over the New South Wales operation of duty of care, double jeopardy, and appeal rights.
The wobbly element in the NSW argy-bargy is the political future of John Della Bosca. He has been stood down from his portfolio due to events relating to an alleged altercation in a restaurant that involves his wife, Belinda Neal, who is a member of the Federal Parliament. (Any internet search on “Della Bosca” is sure to turn up articles on this as the story has been running for almost two weeks). Della Bosca is one of the strongest performers in New South Wales politics and has held the IR portfolio for a long time. Political analysts are saying he will weather the storm but that his wife has little parliamentary future.
In the mean time, Della Bosca’s strong position on OHS is absent in the political discussion and this will have ramifications in the harmonisation process. The Treasurer, Michael Costa, the only other strong NSW performer, could take on the role but the longer Della Bosca’s absent, the more ground the government and its strong trade union support loses to the employers.
In a roundabout fashion, this also puts pressure on the recently-appointed Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Jeff Lawrence. Some unions are less than impressed with his political performance. In Della Bosca’s absence, Lawrence needs to step up his lobbying and maybe continue it even when the Minister returns.