Election excitement masks OHS confusion

The Liberal Party of New South Wales won last Saturday’s State election in a landslide.  The New South Wales employer associations are jubilant but the jubilation masks some confusion over OHS reforms.

The new NSW government is being urged to act promptly on OHS reform issues particularly by the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) and the NSW Business Council but the media statement of the AICD illustrates the confused understanding of the national OHS reforms. It says

“Reforms should include reducing the burden on business of excessive regulation, re-committing NSW to participate in the national reform of occupational health and safety laws and reducing the excessive liability burden imposed on company directors by state legislation.”

“The new government must move decisively in its first term to reduce unnecessary regulation and red tape, which is strangling business.”

It is acknowledged that the introduction of new OHS laws will substantially increase the need for paperwork in order to produce the evidence required to support compliance, due diligence and positive OHS duties on managers. It seems impossible to achieve OHS reforms with also accepting the increased documentation.

It is also noted that the new due diligence requirements are likely to increase costs though informing executives of the new OHS context of these obligations.  It may also require additional OHS professionals to guide the company through these new obligations and, it seems, these professionals are no longer cheap.

The AICD also says the new state government

“…must seriously address the problem caused by the plethora of state laws imposing personal liability on individual directors for corporate misconduct, which are stifling business, investment and job creation.”

It will be intriguing to watch the government support this call while there is an increased attention in the OHS law on the rights and responsibilities of company officers.  Certainly the quote above relates to state laws but the removal of one current state law is likely to be replaced by another OHS law through the State’s new commitment to national OHS reform.

The comments of the AICD reflect the confusion of the business community, particularly in New South Wales with the excitement of the election win, but also in other Australian states.  It seems employer groups want their cake and the ability to eat it.  But the Federal Government will remain a non-conservative government for several years yet, barring parliamentary tragedy or mishandling, and it needs to operate with other non-conservative parties (The Australian Greens) and a mix of independent members.

Until more state Labor governments fall, the advantage remains with the Federal Labor Government who is, after all, implementing OHS law reform firstly advocated by the former Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard.

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