Recently SafetyAtWorkBlog noted that almost one quarter of the submission to the government on its proposed national model OHS law were from individuals and confidential. There was a suspicion of bulk proforma submissions.
One example that is available through the publicly accessible submissions is a letter to the Minister, Julia Gillard, from the Dr Sharann Johnson, President of the Australian lnstitute of Occupational Hygienists. The letter raises concerns over the omission of “suitably qualified” from the legislation. It concludes
“I strongly implore you to reconsider your decision not to include a requirement for the providers of Occupational Health and Safety advice and services to be “suitably qualified” in the national new model OHS legislation. lt would be disappointing to see this amalgamation of legislation miss the opportunity to make a significant impact on the standard of OHS advice provided to Australian industry and ultimately improve our health and safety performance at a national level.”
Similar concerns to Dr Johnson’s have been discussed elsewhere in SafetyAtWorkBlog but on the issue of proforma submissions it is noted that three other submissions, Kevin Hedges, Gavin Irving and a personal submission by Dr Johnson, contain almost exactly the same text.
What these and other proforma submitters are producing is not a response to a draft document or a submission but a petition. Petitions have existed for centuries and carry considerable political clout but putting in a cut-and-paste submission is unhelpful. It signifies a united position but is not constructive. A petition to the Government or specific ministers on a single issue, such as “suitably qualified”, may have had more influence if it included an influential number of signatories and was lodged at the appropriate time, in response to outrage over the particular matter.
There is no criticism of the content of the AIOH letters only of the method of delivery and strategy. There are many more confidential submissions that have also applied a similar strategy.
SafetyAtWorkBlog contacted Safe Work Australia over the issue and asked “How many proformas were used and who were they by?” A spokesperson responded
“Of the 480 submissions received, just over 200 standard form submissions were received from union members, in five different proformas. Each of the five forms contained similar comments. In addition, we identified a small number of standard form submissions from one professional association.”
In developing better legislation, the influence on the process from “weight of numbers” is likely to be far less in this circumstance than would be gained through constructive and innovative suggestions.
As Australia is likely to go through similar public comment phases on a raft of OHS regulations and documents over the next 12 months, assuming the Government does not shelve the project. It is important for the proforma submitters to review their strategies and, perhaps, establish more direct contact through lobbying the relevant Ministers in each State and Federally, on behalf of their large (?) membership. In this way the Government would be familiar with the various organisations, would understand the background to those organisations’ arguments, and would then anticipate the innovative solutions that OHS organisations, professionals and experts, would put forward.
This strategy has worked for the unions and business groups for decades. It may be time for a new strategy for some groups that combines reliable techniques like petitions with personal contact to be followed up by a knock-out submission at the right time, perhaps supported by a broadly distributed media statement.