Victoria risks $50 million over OHS reforms

A SafetyAtWorkBlog article from last week said that Victoria’s Work Safe Week started flat and that speakers at some events were unsure of the future of OHS laws due to Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips‘ unprecedented call to the Federal Government for a 12-month delay.

A spokesperson for the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Chris Evans, has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that Victoria is risking $A50 million of federal government funding if it does not implement OHS reforms:

“….the Victorian Government has already factored in around $50 million in reward payments for the 2011-12 budget forward estimates. These reward payments are dependent on Victoria implementing agreed reforms in accordance with key milestones. This includes OHS reform.”

This economic reality is perhaps behind Rich-Phillips’ continuing emphasis that the Victorian Government continues to support the “principle” of harmonisation.

At the 2011 Work Safe Awards on 19 October 2011, Minister  Rich-Phillips seemed to identify a strategy that is contrary to the application of that principle.  He said

“….. the Victorian Government supports the principle of occupational health and safety harmonisation across the States and Territories but we recognise that, in supporting OHS harmonisation, we need to lift the other States and Territories to Victoria’s level.  We cannot afford to take a step back to the lowest common denominator.”

The current harmonisation process is not “a step back to the lowest common denominator”.  It is intended to be a step forward to streamlined safety management for companies across Australia and a substantial aid in coordinated enforcement across government agencies.

News South Wales faced a similar political problem which was resolved by applying, what some are calling, “harmonisation-plus” – introducing the harmonised laws but adding laws and conditions that tailor the laws to State needs without weakening the original model laws.  This option is available to Victoria and it very likely to gain the approval of the trade union movement.

One of the questions raised during Victoria’s Work Safe Week was whether Gordon Rich-Phillips has received any formal response to his “call”.  Minister Chris Evans’ office has told SafetyAtWorkBlog that:

“The Victorian Assistant Treasurer, Gordon Rich-Phillips, has made a number of representations to Minister for Workplace Relations, Senator Chris Evans, seeking support for a deferral of the implementation date for the legislation.

The Minister does not believe a case for an extension has been made.”

This means that Victoria will definitely not be harmonising its OHS laws with most of the rest of the country from 1 January 2011.  Regardless of the $A50 million of funding under threat, Minister Evans’ spokesperson says that

“This important economic reform will deliver up to $2 billion per annum in productivity improvements as well as a national benefit of $250 million per annum in reduced red tape for businesses and better work health and safety standards for workers.

Every week of delay represents an opportunity cost of more than $43 million to the economy…..

Any costs to Victoria are far outweighed by the benefits from harmonisation. Around 60 per cent of the reforms analysed involved no or minimal costs to Victoria.

The benefits for Victoria are estimated to be around $62.2 million per annum.”

The Victorian Government’s decision impedes the national economic benefits of harmonisation to the other States and, from the figures above, costs its own businesses over $A5 million for each month of its self-imposed delay.

At the 2011 Work Safe Awards, Minister Rich-Phillips stated that

” Victoria is seen as a nation-leader in occupational health and safety…”

This may have been the case once upon a time but no more.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

7 thoughts on “Victoria risks $50 million over OHS reforms”

  1. I do not understand the figures floating around, and nor do I care much for it. I am only concerned that the delay of the Harmonisation of OHS laws will ultimately be at the demise of all Victorians and National companies. The unnecessary delay of 12+ months is ludicrous and obtuse, not to mention a stench of arrogance by the Liberal Government. It is painfully clear to me that the State Government of Victoria has their head in the sand (or colloquially up their backsides) and are hell bent on disruption to the plans of the Gillard Government. Let\’s put aside the political crap, at least for the time being, and swallow the ignorant pride and just get on with adopting the model Act. Their is little difference to what is in the Victorian Act, so why delay for so long? Other states have adopted it, and we have all had the same length of time to debate and propose alterations or suggestions. Leave politics out of it. Let\’s look forward and get our Act together. (Pun intended).

    1. Wayne, the trick with politics is to not drown in it but to analyse it and try to understand it and how it applies to one\’s own circumstances. In a Carlton shared-house in the 1980s I once stated that politics didn\’t interest me. One of my house mates quickly pointed out that politics cannot be ignored as it is part of our social fabric. (Thanks Amree, wherever you are) To try to ignore it simply makes us (literally) ignorant and (logically) less able to participate in the political discourse that Australia\’s voting system imposes.

      I believe that the OHS sector has been too shy of politics and has therefore lost a legitimate voice to government. The OHS professional bodies lobby, if at all, on the most marginal of social issues. The employees, in the past, have been able to rely on the trade union movement to lobby on their behalf and to piggyback OHS needs on wage negotiations (although the Queensland fire union was able to negotiate from a safety base in several instances as Against All Odds records) Trade union influence is waning as its membership declines and no one is filling the OHS lobbying gap.

      One of the opportunities missed is that industrial relations has always been based on wages and conditions, and no one has really defined what \”conditions\” means. If it means safety, and I think safety is a large part of the definition, then we should call it this but \”conditions\” implies that safety is just one of many elements. In fact \”conditions\’ is the industrial equivalent of \”miscellaneous\” or \”general\” in filing – it can mean anything and therefore means nothing.

      Your comment could be read as a call for some leadership on the issue of OHS harmonisation. Safety leadership has been a buzzword in Australia and the US for some time and can work within a particular corporate or organisational structure but once safety leadership steps outside into the real world, the society, it must confront politics because politics is the method for social change and social decision-making.

      I have rabbited on for several years about how OHS professionals and advocates are working on and towards their core values but they must step outside of their comfort zone and enter the political fray in order to achieve the large-scale change they desire.

      This blog was established as a response to the vacuum of informed comment on OHS in Australia and the hesitation that many felt in expressing an opinion. It was never intended to be \”political\” but the discourse with readers, and the growth of other social media, has introduced politics to the blog. SafetyAtWorkBlog will continue to focus on important issues related to workplace safety but, with that aim, politics cannot be avoided. It is my job, as Editor, to balance the coverage and keep the broader readership it has achieved.

      1. Hi Kevin,

        Thank you for your prompt reply.

        I am not avoiding political debate, it is a necessary evil within the democratic fabric of society. I would applaud the introduction of a OHS lobby group so as not to rely on union agendas that \”use\” safety as a means of getting improvements to wages and conditions. And I agree with you that \”conditions\” is a very broad term and that safety is (or should be) a major part of this definition…but it cannot really be defined as such, as in doing so would omit any other definition intended within the wording. Another broad term (from SA OHS Act) is \”Welfare\” which simply is the well being of an individual. This seems to have been overlooked with the Model Act, however is probably covered in other ways within the Act, Regs and CoPs. The query is, how adequately covered is it?

        My statement was largely out of frustration built up over a long period of time,and I am confident that I am not a lone ranger on that front. The OHS Harmonisation has been on the horizon for a very long time, and it is, in the main, political agendas (sabotage to put it a little crudely) that sees it being stalled.

  2. Although I still can\’t see that the cost benefit numbers of the harmonisation add up sensibly, it\’s self-evident the writing\’s on the wall. And perhaps more importantly, all the scrambling over harmonisation must be diverting effort from making OHS better; best to get the fiddlin\’ about out the way.

    Time for WorkSafe Vic to pull all stops to \”get with the program\”.

    But I think it\’s also time for all stops to be pulled on working out the essential legislative amendment to make sure \”harmonisation-plus\” doesn\’t negate all the effort to date. No-muckin\’-about mutual recognition bits are needed, and fast.

    The other thing is I think all the Oz jurisdictions should be taking the whip-hand on the harmonisation stuff fast. The message is loud and clear: the fluffing and buggerising around by the jurisdictions with national consistency over the previous years ended up biting them on the bum, being landed with the WHS stuff.

    The regulators need to get fair dinkum about doing what they should be best at, making sensible decisions on sensible laws, but now in an environment that demands fair dinkum national consistency, and all but seamless cross-jurisdictional enforcement and administration. Ya can\’t expect a Safe Work Australia committee to make that stuff work properly, it\’s up to the regulators.

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