OHS experts have said that the Victorian OHS legislative structure is leading the way in being a major influence on the National OHS Model Law Review. A leaked email, reported in the 15 August 2008 edition of the Australian Financial Review, has John Merritt, CEO of WorkSafe Victoria, calling for a summit before the end of 2008 at which tough enforcement policies are to be discussed with his counterparts from other Australian States.
His call seems to be in response to an equivocation on OHS harmonisation that would allow States to have different ways of applying national OHS laws. This flexibility has been flagged for some time and has the potential to allow just as much jurisdictional confusion and overlap in a new structure as there is currently.
The leaking of the email does not help the process of OHS legislative review but it does identify a potential weakness in the national OHS model law review process if the government is not decisive. The Rudd government has been in for less than 12 months and has applied a rapid pace of legislative review. Several reports and recommendations have already been released with the impact of wet lettuce. For instance, Bracks’ automotive industry review has cost a lot of money for minor tweaks to the status quo unless you are a conservative voter who chooses an imported vehicle.
Whatever the government’s response to the OHS law review, it needs to be one that will stand the test of time, as the UK’s Roben’s review has since the early 1970s. It also needs to be brave enough to see OHS law as independent from industrial relations law. Too often OHS is the tail to the IR dog. The OHS and IR Acts are separate legislation even though the application of the laws overlap at the shopfloor.
We have to remember that harmonisation is the sum of many different voices making up a song, not everyone singing the same tune at the same time. Perhaps the the wrong goal was aimed for at the start of the process.