Australia’s Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten had a very busy day on 26 April 2012 with the recent actions over the management of the Health Services Union. Tha evening he spoke eloquently and passionately at the Annual Safe Work Australia Awards. Not only did he speak but he also spent several hours speaking with award finalists winners. At these sorts of functions many politicians cannot wait to escape. But Bill Shorten is enormously well qualified for his role as the minister for employment relations, including workplace safety.
He diverged strongly from his written speech yet there was one section that he clearly felt strongly about and it is a point that many safety professionals should remember:
“Hazards and risks and the entire approach to risk assessment and risk management generally do not address what really happens at work. Beaconsfield gold mine had such a system. Longford oil and gas refinery had such a system before sections of it blew up in 1998.
It is not the systems or the fancy talk about culture that will save people’s lives.” (link added)
Shorten repeatedly referred to need for respect and dignity in workplaces. He was not speaking about a shrill political “Respect Agenda” but about genuine reform in the way we behave at work.
However, his frustration with media reporting of OHS was displayed. He said
“I wish that the media of Australia, instead of their interest in Cabcharges, which is a legitimate topic, could demonstrate some of that same energy on [safety].”
Shorten pointed out that the request and push for harmonised OHS laws was from a employer agenda and he wished that the opposition conservative parties would decide on whether “they wanted to live in a federation or a bunch of colonies.”
Bill Shorten is an impressive political performer and his speech this evening showed that there is a determination for harmonisation and a belief that harmonized OHS laws will be introduced in each Australian State. The calibre of Bill Shorten was further illustrated by the inept response from his political opponent on workplace relations, Senator Eric Abetz.
For those in the audience who were not finalists, the highlight of a surprisingly placid evening was Shorten’s speech of respect, dignity and hope on workplace safety.