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.