Second Reading-WORKPLACE SAFETY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (WORKPLACE MANSLAUGHTER AND OTHER MATTERS) BILL 2019
FREGON (Mount Waverley) (10:39:02): I rise proudly to speak on the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019. I will start by thanking the Attorney-General for her work in this area. This is a commitment that we promised the people of Victoria we would deliver, and she is delivering it today. Can I also point out that I am very happy to see the member for Sydenham, our Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, in the house this morning to see this bill pass. I know you have done a lot of work on this as well, and I thank you for that. I should thank the Premier and the whole cabinet really, because as an election commitment this is something that I proudly told everyone during the campaign that we would do—and wage theft is another one that I know is going to come in the not-too-distant future. The member for Ringwood mentioned some of the debate yesterday from the other side in reference to, I believe, the community not supporting this. Well, I can tell the house that the community that I spoke to in the election period and since do support this and do support this for a very good reason, because this bill is necessary. I would like to thank the unions, the workers, the health service personnel—everyone who has ever come into contact with this terrible plight in our society of losing people for no good reason. When I started to think about this bill, I had to think about how it would affect families. Obviously I thought of my own family. Whilst there has not been a workplace death in my family, we lost my uncle when I was a young boy of about eight. He died of a heart attack. It was sudden and he left three young children and my aunty. They were obviously devastated. His mother outlived her child, which as a father I cannot imagine. My mother—his sister—misses him to this day. Our whole extended family was rocked. In that case it was just a tragic heart attack that happened, and there is nothing you can do about that. If you add to that a workplace accident that may be nobody’s fault—there was nothing they could do—I think that is worse. If you then add to that that board members had a duty of care for an employee and did not look after them, even when they knew or there was a reasonable expectation that they should have known—they did nothing—and that same 38-year-old man dies because of that, that is atrocious. There were words from the other side about this bill being unfair. That is unfair. The idea that families and extended families will lose the life of their loved one—lose history that has not happened yet—that is unfair. So we are making the consequences of this clear: if you are responsible for the death of your worker, you will go to jail. Now, I want to come just quickly to the definition of ‘criminal negligence’, because I think it is important to understand that there is no actual change to the obligations of the boardroom from this. They are meant to look after their workers now. The penalties are not the same. The new offence does not alter the existing obligations or duties for employers. What are they expected to not do? They are expected to not be criminally negligent, and the criminal negligence test requires both a great falling short of a reasonable standard of care and a high risk of death, serious injury or serious illness. So this bill basically says if you are that shoddy that you do not care, that you have not looked after your employees and they die as a result of your negligence, incompetence—whatever words you use, the test is there—then you have a serious problem and you should have a serious problem. I have been a business owner myself, as I have said before in this house, and I would argue that if you are considering costs first versus the safety of your employees, you are not running your business to a level where you are being profitable anyway. If you are cutting corners, you should be out of business. You have to look after your employees; that has to come first, because otherwise your business model is just stupid anyway. I want to shout out to the Transport Workers Union. They are a great union. They were a client of mine for 20 years and I looked after their IT. I know they have been very active in regard to the preparation of this bill. I particularly want to acknowledge the secretary of the TWU, Mr John Berger, and I want to thank him and all his members for their work in pushing for these laws. To quote John: There are so many loopholes in the current arrangements and some bosses, through negligence, are killing workers and never seeing a day in court … These laws: … will …help ensure the single most important thing to us as a union—that each of our members arrive home safely to their families at the end of every shift. I also did work in my previous career in regard to writing software for a company that checked racking. I can say that most employers did everything they could to make their warehouses safe. But there was one example, and I will not use names, of an overseas company—it was in the US—where there were warnings of things that had to be fixed, they were not fixed and someone died. Even after a person had died there was still discussion, apparently, in the boardroom of this overseas company: ‘Well, if we spend all that money to fix this, we won’t get our bonus at the end of the year’. I cannot imagine how those people go home and look at their own kids and think, ‘My kid’s going to go work somewhere in a few years and I hope they’re not as crappy as I am’. It is unbelievable. We promised that we would bring this law in, and we are doing it. We promised to make workplace manslaughter an offence, and it is happening. This proposed legislation delivers on our important election commitment, as I said, by creating this new criminal offence. Currently $300 000 to $400 000 is about all you can expect your business to be fined if you are criminally negligent. It is not enough. What we are heading towards is something significantly higher—jail time, $16 million. This is adequate to send a message to the boardroom that you have to look after your people. You have to check your sites. You have to make sure that the void space has the appropriate safety equipment around it so that young people can come home to their families, older people can come home to their families and children can grow up knowing their parents. I commend the bill to the house.