Rob Oakenshott is an independent politician in the New South Wales parliament, He was formerly a representative of the National Party. Oakenshott is one of the first Australian politicians who are not directly involved in the program of OHS law harmonisation to raise any concerns.
What spurred him to speak was a recent case in the High Court of Australia centring around NSW’s absolute OHS duty of care. Comments from the Allens Arthur Robinson newsletter say:
“The matter will present an opportunity for the court to determine whether the interpretation of the duties under the OHS Act is so restrictive that it makes it impossible for an employer to comply with them and practically removes the benefit of the statutory defences. The issue of the difficulty of complying with the legislation is something that the defendants have submitted runs counter to the rule of law and the Constitution.”
Oakenshott stated in a media release (not yet available on his website):
“I am also concerned that aspects of NSW state legislation such as the absolute liability elements are being considered by the Federal Government,” he said. “Having been involved in state politics for fifteen years, I can assure the government they will have near riots on the streets from the small business community of Australia if they mirror NSW legislation in the quest for harmonious national laws.”
This would be the first time that OHS would ever have raised the passion of Australian small businesses to this extent. A survey produced for the ACTU (considered to be representative of the general population by the research company) quoted the following statistics:
67% believe that workplace safety is important, but only 40% see it as “very important”.