Professor Michael Quinlan on Jeff Shaw’s legacy

The Australian newspaper on 12 May 2010 published an article that is an example of the type of article on the passing of former New South Wales Attorney-General Jeff Shaw that SafetyAtWorkBlog expressed concerns over.  For most of the article Shaw’s alcoholism is the focus yet we should not judge a person only by their flaws but by their achievements.

Prof Quinlan

SafetyAtWorkBlog interviewed Professor Michael Quinlan who was closely involved in some of the law reform work that Jeff Shaw instigated in the 1990s when he was the Attorney-General.

Quinlan echoed the opinions of Professor Ron McCallum over Shaw’s commitment to industrial relations and OHS law reform but spoke of a different set of legislation  that Quinlan thinks was an important achievement of Shaw.

“…[Shaw introduced legislation for the safety of clothing outworkers] – the Industrial Relations Ethical Clothing  Trades Act integrated effective wages, workers compensation and OHS entitlements into the one package.  It was a very innovative piece of legislation and almost set an international benchmark in terms of supply chain regulation.

It targeted the top of the supply chain. He accepted the argument that if you are going to deal with some of these people, there was no point starting at the level that immediately employed these workers, you had to go to the top, to the retail houses and the fashion houses that ultimately set up the contracts that employ these people…….

As a result of that [supply chain-related] legislation there was encouragement for similar legislation in the trucking industry and a generic piece of supply chain legislation that was introduced in South Australia…..  It set up a model that other people are now starting to look at because, with the complexity of work organisation these days the old-style of legislation, which is based on a single employer or a single country, has major limitations.  Supply chain legislation is one of the ways of dealing with that.

These changes came about partly in response to a community campaign and it takes a good Minister to listen to the community these days.  I always found Jeff very approachable.”

The OHS inquiries instigated by Jeff Shaw in the 1990s in New South Wales make for a fascinating comparison to the operation of the current national OHS harmonisation review.  The terms of reference and jurisdictions are very different but the New South Wales reforms seem to have been more inclusive and more far-reaching.  Quinlan agreed with this position.

Quinlan is critical of some areas of the harmonisation review, particular some big issues such as the omission of supply chain obligations, the lack of a general duty to undertake risk assessment, and protection for vulnerable workers.  There were some important changes through this reform program, particularly the updating of definitions, but Quinlan’s overall impression of the OHS harmonisation process is one of disappointment.

A comparison of the OHS review processes of New South Wales in the 1990s and nationally in the 2000s is educational in the political and regulatory contexts.  It is difficult to imagine that harmonisation would have proceeded in the same manner if Jeff Shaw were able to have been an active participant.  It is also likely that OHS law in New South Wales would not have become so reviled by the business sector if Jeff Shaw’s consultation method of consensus had not become so politically unpopular.  Consensus may have its limitations but the consultative basis is sound and its processes are sadly lacking in much of the current OHS negotiations.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

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