Safety needs to be seen to be more than politics
Posted on June 29, 2010
Any optimism that one may have felt over the appointment of Cath Bowtell as the executive director of WorkSafe Victoria may be very short-lived if the reports on the cover of The Age newspaper are to be believed. The Age reports that Cath Bowtell is the frontrunner for a seat in the Australian Parliament following the MP for Melbourne, Lindsay Tanner’s decision to not contest the upcoming federal election.
For those who want political discussions on the Labor Party machinations, this is not the right blog. IF Cath Bowtell enters the race for a Federal seat, what does this say about the position of WorkSafe’s executive director?
As written elsewhere, Bowtell could have stamped her authority on WorkSafe and taken it in a different and, perhaps, more contemporary direction due to her history as an activist in work/life issues, workplace flexibility, superannuation and issues associated with an ageing workforce and retirement. Potentially, WorkSafe could have caught up some of the ground lost to SafeWorkSA on the work/life issues.
But again IF, Bowtell moves onward, the executive director position would look increasingly like The Australian Labor Party “parked” her in the role, and for a much shorter time than was expected. It would politicise the WorkSafe position overtly to the Left of politics even though her predecessor John Merritt kept politics out of the role for almost all his term. Bowtell’s appointment looks like the consolation prize for not getting the top job with the ACTU, which was the rumour at the time.
Safety does not deserve to be seen as a political issue. WorkSafe has worked hard to improve the community awareness of OHS over decades and if the organisation or, flowing on, its inspectors are seen as coming from an organisation that is headed by overt political appointments, the community may take OHS as being a socialist plot. This suspicion from the Right, Conservative side of politics has already been given a small media airing in relation to a prosecution penalty in May 2010.
The retirement of Lindsay Tanner was unexpected by everyone and his action created a political opportunity that Cath Bowtell is entitled to pursue. If she does the selection process for a replacement executive director in WorkSafe would need to be very carefully handled in order to restore community confidence in the organisation’s impartiality. The appointment would need to be of someone who puts safety before political career.
At the time of writing, Cath Bowtell has not commented on the rumours published in The Age and The Australian.