The Safety Institute discovers the media

For many years the Safety Institute of Australia has been uncertain in its media relations. On most of the important OHS issues in the last 10 years the SIA has either been silent for the fear of being “overtly political” or been too slow to react.  Its past media releases have almost always been to promote upcoming conferences.  Finally, the SIA has made a media statement within 24 hours of an OHS issue AND it was a political issue.   Perhaps the SIA is finally showing some understanding of how to work with the media instead of being suspicious.

On 15 October 2010, The SIA issued a media release on the matter of NSW Premier Kristina Keneally’s refusal to play to the rules on harmonizing OHS laws. In a carefully worded statement, the SIA has come out on the side of the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.   No surprise there as Keneally’s government is considered by almost everyone as a certainty to lose power in the March 2011 election.   But the SIA’s inherent conservatism is on show when it says the proposed federal law changes remove “any justification for a union’s right to prosecute.”.  The SIA has always been uncomfortable with the OHS role of unions and has had a fractious relationship with the union movement.

The SIA also lists the very issue that should be of most concern to Australians and which presents a major challenge to the SIA.  The SIA says that the OHS reforms are so broad that they will affect everyone and that the issue is of “national interest”.   The laws do need to be seen in the broader social context but, from past indications, the SIA is poorly placed to be the social advocate, unless the upcoming national elections results in a clear-out of existing committee members or the committee undertakes an ideological bypass.

Significantly and coincidentally the SIA has emerged from its introspective shell at the same time that a shortsighted review of OHS in England is presented to the Conservative Cameron government.   If the SIA wants to see the future of OHS it needs to closely examine Lord Young’s report. If it wants to see how strong an organization it can be, it needs to look at how the Institute of Occupational Safety & Health has been an integral part of England’s OHS debate, particularly over the last 12 months.

There are two fronts in the current OHS sector – legislative and organisational. Both require very different strategies from professional bodies. The future worth of the SIA will be seen in how it involves itself in these two fronts. The media release is a positive sign but if the SIA is going to be an agent of social change on a matter of national interest, it needs to be more inclusive, less frightened of its own expertise and understand the needs and priorities of all its members and not just the favoured few.

Kevin Jones

Categories Cameron, Gillard, government, Keneally, law, media, OHS, politics, safety, UncategorizedTags , , ,

8 thoughts on “The Safety Institute discovers the media”

  1. A recent update – courtesy of a CHH news service:

    \”NSW Opposition leader, Barry O\’Farrell, has made it clear that his government would support the harmonisation process if elected in 2011. However, the Greens’ IR spokesman, the newly-elected Adam Bandt, has come out supporting Ms Keneally. This means that the Gillard Government will be reliant upon the NSW opposition to get the WHS Act passed in NSW and likely the Coalition Government in the federal sphere to get the WHS Act passed by federal parliament.\”

    1. Graham, I don\’t think we should forget that the WA government has raised objections about the OHS laws, almost, from the start of the process.

      Also, the current Australian parliament is beginning to show the level of influence that the Greens and the independent members have on government policy.

      What needs to be asked of the Federal Government now in relation of OHS harmonisation, is what is Plan B?

  2. As a pom working in Victoria (and loving Australia) I can only agree fully with Kevin\’s comments relating to ther profesionalism of IOSH when dealing with national OHS issues. It wasn\’t always like this though and there was some steep learning. Does SIA have any plans to work closer with other OHS institutions I wonder, after all, we do not need to reinvent the wheel, merely improve its roadworthyness?!

  3. Thanks Kevin.

    My own view is that stance by the Keneally government needs to be seen as an attempt to salvage as many votes as possible in the forthcoming forecast of an electoral routing. The Keneally Government knows it cannot win business votes, and at the same time it is seeing its vote eroded in traditional labour demographics – so this is part of a policy approach to say where can we find some votes, let\’s craft policy decisions over the next 6 months to attract whatever votes we can salvage in order to mitigate the pending forecast electoral wipeout.

    In this context the big question has to be what is the position of the NSW opposition, i.e. the next NSW government, on the harmonisation law.

    1. Graham, significantly the Opposition Leader Barry O\’Farrell has come out criticizing Kristina Keneally on industrial relations but not OHS. Significantly the media has opted to report business opposition comments more than O\’Farrell\’s. In a media release on 14 October. O\’Farrell said

      \”Kristina Keneally is a hypocrite. She\’s happy to fight for her union mates, but the Labor Leader won\’t fight for farmers; she won\’t fight for nurses and doctors who have been short-changed by Federal Labor\’s health infrastructure fund, and she\’s failed to fight to get Sydney its fair share of infrastructure funding. While the NSW Liberals & Nationals support national reform of industrial relations, so did the State Labor Government until the union bosses got in the ear of Kristina Keneally. It\’s disappointing the only fight Ms Keneally is prepared to have with her mates in Canberra is on behalf of the union bosses – not on behalf of farmers, nurses, doctors, or commuters in NSW…\”

  4. Kevin,
    I believe you make some excellent points in relation to the Safety Institute of Australia.
    These are times of change,history says those that do not change do not survive.
    From my studies in Management of Organisational Change I found the motto \”When initiating change, Remember, People support what they create\”
    I believe there is a message for S.I.A. in this.
    It is well overdue for the organisation to emege from the shadows and change to be a force to be reckoned with.
    Regards,
    George Robotham

  5. I\’ve previously questioned why the SIA had remained silent in times when the media and general public have been outspoken about safety, such as following Victorian bush fires. As we know, the image of the SIA has been tarnished lately. I think embracing the media is a positive step forward. I also think there are many more opportunities for the SIA to contribute such as providing expert opinion to journalists for safety relevant articles.

    Kevin, I received the media release by email, do you know whether it has also been published elsewhere?

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