Second Reading- Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill 2019
FREGON (Mount Waverley) (15:14:11): I rise happily to speak on the Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill 2019. I would like to start by firstly thanking the Attorney-General and obviously the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change for her work on this bill as well. The Andrews Labor government understands the importance of prioritising the safety of our community. We have done this in many ways, and this bill today is another example of the importance of safety in our community—similar to the rail bill that we did earlier this week. Unfortunately we have all seen what can happen when dangerous goods are mishandled. When reading about this bill I was reminded of an ABC TV show from my youth called Australia You’re Standing In It. I do not know how many people are old enough to remember that. There were a couple of characters on that show called the Dodgy brothers, and it was all fun and games and they were stupid and did the wrong thing. Well, there are no fun and games when it comes to the storage of dangerous goods, but unfortunately there are Dodgy brothers around and we need bills like this to tell them what they should be doing if they have not worked it out already. For those storing dangerous goods, they should know the dangers by now; there is no excuse for ignorance. It does not really matter if you are storing pool chlorine or if you are storing explosives, you should know what the responsibilities are for your business. We are the party that delivers on our promises; in January we said we would look into what needed to be done, and this is what needed to be done. So I think that is great work done by the Attorney-General especially to get us to this point. I also notice that one of the aspects of the change in this bill is the new indictable offence that the Attorney-General mentioned in her speech: The Bill introduces a new offence in the Dangerous Goods Act 1985 of recklessly engaging in conduct relating to the manufacture, storage, transport, transfer, sale or use of dangerous goods that places— and she goes on about what that does. I just pick out the words ‘recklessly engaging in conduct’. When I heard about the amendment that was put forward by the other side here, sitting in the naughty corner, I just thought the idea that you would somehow publish the addresses of where explosives are kept in our community would fit into recklessly engaging in that conduct. I do not know why the Einsteins on the other side did not think that that might be a problem, considering they spend most of their time being negative about stuff, but it boggles the mind. It really does. So what brought us to this point? There have been a lot of public fires—three, actually, the main ones. There was even a fire in Sydney earlier this week. It worries the community when these things happen because it affects them greatly. In 2017 we had the Coolaroo fire. We had suburbs covered by smoke and the evacuation of more than 100 homes, and the fire burned for 11 days. Then we had the Footscray fire in 2018. Our member for Footscray informed us all earlier that that was on the day she was giving birth—I mean, of all the days that you are not quite stressed enough, to have that happen in the morning! More importantly for the area of Footscray, it took 140 firefighters days to control it, with hotspots after it for weeks. Again there was black smoke and there were explosions, and in the creek family dogs were covered in sludge. This is a big problem. That led to some changes. There were some things that we promised to do in January, which I will get to in a moment. Then obviously we saw the Campbellfield fire earlier this year—I think it was April—and again there was black smoke over Melbourne, schools and businesses were forced to shut down and it took four days to control. The people running these businesses know that they are doing the wrong thing, and it annoys me as a previous business owner when so many—the vast majority—of our business owners do the right thing. We pay our staff, we keep things safe, we pay super, we pay our bills, we just try and run a business and make a profit, and to have the minority of people out there just stuffing it up for not only other businesses but everybody— Mr Halse: Cowboys. Mr FREGON: Cowboys, that’s right—absolute cowboys. It is very disappointing and very annoying, and it is why this bill is required, which is not, all by itself, a sad fact, but it is a fact of life that we must have these bills to deter and punish those cowboys who do this sort of work. In January, as I said, we committed to strengthening the penalties available under the Dangerous Goods Act. Mishandling a dangerous good poses a direct threat to our community, obviously, and our firefighters usually are our first responders who have to deal with the mess. Most of the time they have no idea what is in these places. If it is one of these dodgy brothers, then who knows? If it is a well-run business and everything is placarded and an accident happens, that is a different story. It is still a big problem and our firefighters do amazing work—and a big shout-out to them, and the member for Frankston is not here at the moment but a shout-out to him as well. Then after our fireys of course we have got the ambos who turn up—and a shout-out to the member for Melton over there and the police, and a shout-out to the member for Bayswater. Ms Addison: What a line-up. Mr FREGON: I know! Covered it all; we have got the trifecta. They go in without question, and they protect and they serve. This bill should hopefully give them some comfort that all the risk that they take is not ignored and that the people who put them as well as the rest of the community in that risk will be punished. These people have had the book thrown at them before—well, the book just got heavier and it is going to hurt a little more when it lands. The lives of our service personnel as well as those in the community are paramount, and this also goes for the workers who have to work in these places. The member for Yuroke told the story of a poor bloke who was carrying a drum of one of these ungodly toxic things and it blew up in his arms. That guy’s life changed forever because of a boss who probably tried to save a few bucks. Mr Taylor: Shameful! Mr FREGON: It is shameful, and that is why the book needs to be thrown and thrown hard. I am very encouraged by the new penalties, by the new offence and by the increase in financial penalties, but I would also say to some businesses out there who are storing goods and who are not sure: go to the WorkSafe website and have a look at it if you are not sure. It does not matter if you think what you are storing is safe. In my previous life I was a programmer. I spent 10 years programming a system that collected data on racking inspections for safety purposes. I can tell you that there are a lot of good employers out there, a lot of good business owners out there with racking. They are doing everything they can to keep all of that stuff safe and secure, and when little problems happen they fix them. I saw this for 10 years. Most of them do the right thing. If you are not sure, get the information and sort it out. Your staff will be happier, your customers will be happier and your business will be more profitable. The other thing that I would like to mention briefly before I run out of my allotted time is to give a shout-out to a local gentleman by the name of David Shultz, who is a good branch member. David has worked in the fire safety area for many, many a year. He has retired now, but he has got a wealth of knowledge that he will share with us. When I discussed this bill with him he was talking about when he worked on the city loop. He did a lot of fire systems in the city loop and worked on those. He was instructing me that he wants to make sure we do the same sort of excellent work in the Metro Tunnel. I said to him, ‘Look, I have no doubt that the Minister for Transport Infrastructure is on top of all that and that we will have the finest safety systems in that tunnel’—so a shout-out to David because he is really a great guy. I could go on with the numbers. The fact is they are significant. The penalties will be significant. If you do the wrong thing, you will get caught. There have been 1600 dangerous goods visits this year and 400 improvement notices. WorkSafe is out there—they are coming. Do the right thing and you will be fine. Do not do the right thing and you will get the book chucked at you. I commend this bill to the house.