Harmonisation documents available but path is far from settled

On 25 September 2009, Australia’s Workplace Relations Ministers Council
(WRMC) agreed to release the draft legislation for public comment.

According to one media report, the New South Wales Finance Minister, Joe Tripodi,

“…moved at the [WRMC] meeting to have union prosecutions included in the new laws and was defeated by eight votes to one.”

Pages from Discussionpaper_ExposureDraft_ModelActforOHS_PDFThe documents are now available for download HERE.

According to Safe Work Australia’s media statement:

“The suite of documents available for public comment includes a model Act, administrative Regulations and consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS). The RIS will allow individuals and organisations to comment on the potential costs and benefits of the proposed Regulations. The RIS has been prepared by Access Economics.”

Curiously, it also says that Access Economics is

“…surveying businesses across a range of sizes, industries and regions in an effort to obtain primary data on compliance costs and safety benefits.”

It is odd that this has not been done earlier to, perhaps, substantiate the claims that the OHS law changes will reduce costs and “red tape”.

At the Comcare Conference in Canberra in late September 2009, Geoff Fary, illustrated very effectively the small sector of business that would be affected by the national laws.  Fary estimates that only around 1% of Australian businesses are likely to be liable to the “red tape” argument.  Many of these companies could be expected to already have some form of national OHS management systems, perhaps through Australian management standards.

Whether the percentage of affected 1% or 5% it is hoped that the Access Economics survey does not focus only on this sector.  Previous surveys have indicated a large ignorance or apathy about national harmonisation.  This is likely because the vast majority of Australian businesses operate within a single jurisdiction so the harmonisation is considered irrelevant.  The sad reality is that the OHS legislative structures in Australia for the next 10 to 20 years will be determined by the corporate sector, the regulators themselves, and the labour law firms and not necessarily by the small to medium-sized businesses for whom OHS can be the most burdensome.

SafetyAtWorkBlog had the chance to ask Geoff Fary, the assistant secretary of the ACTU, of his thoughts on the continuing opposition to harmonisation expressed by Troy Buswell, the Western Australia Treasurer.  Fary said that harmonisation

“…could occur without Western Australia being involved.  It couldn’t occur, I believe, without Victoria or New South Wales or Queensland being involved but because of the nature of the place and the geography of the place it could occur without Western Australia, and I think there is probably a strong possibility….that harmonisation will proceed in the absence of Western Australia.”

If this evenuates the harmonisation process becomes an academic exercise yet again.

Kevin Jones

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