Industrial Manslaughter mentioned in Australia’s Parliament

Earlier in February 2010, the recently appointed leader of the conservative Opposition, Tony Abbott, said in Parliament that the Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett could have been charged with industrial manslaughter over the deaths of four insulation installers funded indirectly by the Government.  It was all oratorical bluster with little legal credibility.

However, it did remind some that industrial manslaughter laws are a reality in some Australian jurisdictions and remains a policy objective of some political parties.

In the Australian Senate on 25 February 2010, the Green Senator, Bob Brown, moved

“That, with regard to the comments made by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Abbott) on industrial manslaughter, the Senate accepts the need for strong national industrial manslaughter laws.”

This was voted down on party-lines.  The Labor and Liberal members opposed the motion.  It is useful to note who supported the motion.

Greens –
Brown, B.J.
Hanson-Young, S.C.
Ludlam, S.
Milne, C.
Siewert, R.

Independent – Xenophon, N.
Family First – Fielding, S.

This should be no surprise to anyone familiar with Australian politics.  Indeed Nick Xenophon‘s political history on OHS matters extends well back into his time in the South Australian Parliament.

The Senate motion gained less space in the draft of Hansard than it has in this article but the Construction Forestry Mining & Energy Union ran with the issue by releasing a media statement. Dave Noonan, CFMEU Construction National Secretary, said

“If the tragic deaths of four young insulation workers have highlighted anything at all it the need for the toughest possible occupational health and safety laws and industry regulations in Australia.  The tragic reality is the we have witnessed little more than political posturing from both sides of politics.

“The Opposition leader has made claims of industrial manslaughter against the Federal Government, yet he is unwilling or uninterested to support national industrial manslaughter laws.”

Noonan, surprisingly, continues to advocate the New South Wales OHS laws for the national OHS harmonisation process.  The reality of NSW laws to be accepted on a national basis was always dubious and much less so now after the January 2010 High Court decision.

The mention of Industrial Manslaughter in the Australian Senate may have been a “throw-away” line by a minor political party, the Australian Greens, until one notes that opinion polls leading up the 20 March 2010 Tasmanian election have shown a surge in popularity for the Greens.  The Greens have an increasing chance of forming a coalition government with the Liberal Party if the incumbent Labor Party continues to lose ground.

Meanwhile in England the trial of the first UK company to be charged under the 2007 Corporate Manslaughter Act will resume on 26 February 2010.  According to a BBC report a company and its director have been charged with corporate manslaughter after a trench collapse.

Kevin Jones

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