Politics has again entered the OHS harmonisation debate in Australia. Federal Workplace Relations Minister, Chris Evans, issued a statement on 10 November 2011, part of which that has been pounced on by the Opposition and slightly twisted by the online media.
“Senator Evans also announced that transitional arrangements for the model OHS laws have been developed by Safe Work Australia to assist businesses to move to the new harmonised arrangements.
“The transitional arrangements will apply to the model OHS Regulations and provide delayed commencement of up to 12 months or more where the new laws result in a new or significantly different set of duties,” Senator Evans said.
“The developments of sensible transitional arrangements are part and parcel of any new laws.”
The Shadow Minister for Workplace Relations, Eric Abetz, quickly responded with a media release of his own.
“Minister Evans has today conceded that businesses will be able to delay implementing new national health and safety laws by up to 12 months if the regulations result in them having to undertake significant change. Given that almost every business will have to make significant change, this is the Minister’s back door way of delaying the laws implementation.”
It is important to read the entirety of Senator Evans statement as it reiterates some of the points that SafetyAtWorkBlog reported on several weeks ago. The statement also acknowledges the fact that seven out of nine jurisdictions will have almost identical OHS laws from 1 January 2011. This is not the total legal harmony intended by previous governments but it is clearly all we are likely to receive for the next 12 months.
It is equally important to note the current political climate in which Senator Abetz has made his media release. The climate is reflected in his statement that
“This is just another debacle from a Minister who weakened our borders, almost shut down the Queensland Community Services sector and grounded Qantas through inaction.”
The transitional arrangements mentioned by Senator Evans relate to the Work Health and Safety Regulations and not the Act. The Act’s transitional arrangements have been available since March 2011.
The potential impact of these new transitional principles is very unclear as the principles are yet to be released but one online website reports that a spokesperson for Senator Evans said
“affected business could include construction companies in South Australia and Tasmania”.
This seems to be a very limited impact regardless of the claims of Senator Abetz.
The website also quotes a Safe Work Australia spokesperson as stating
“….there will be no transitional period for the introduction of the model construction Regulations in Queensland. That is because the new laws align substantially with their pre-existing requirements so there is no need to allow for extra time to comply.”
It seems that the delay will be related to the current legislative structures in each State. Messy but reasonable.
The statement by Senator Evans may indicate that the government is acknowledging the mess that OHS harmonisation is becoming and is trying to achieve what can still be achieved. It will be interesting to see if the Victorian and Western Australian Workplace Relations Ministers make statements on Evans’ comments in the next few days. There can be dignity in silence but politics has little dignity.