Work Health & Safety (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill

Bills, In Parliament, Speeches

Introduction and First Reading 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:26): Obtained leave and introduced a bill for an act to amend the Work Health and Safety Act 2012. Read a first time. 

Second Reading 

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:27): I move: 

That this bill now be read a second time. 

Indeed, this is not the first second reading of such a bill as this. Today, I rise to reintroduce the Work Health and Safety (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill, this time for 2019. I note that in previous years I had brought a similar bill to this place. Prior to that, former member the Hon. Nick Xenophon brought a similar bill to this place. 

This bill will create a new offence of industrial manslaughter in South Australia. It seeks to capture a very small minority of employers who cruelly and unnecessarily risk the safety of their employees. Putting workers’ lives at risk for the sake of cost cutting is unacceptable and the statistics sadly speak for themselves. 

It is no coincidence that I bring this legislation before this council today on May Day. In particular, it is no coincidence that I intend to reignite this conversation while we are also talking about changing the rules. May Day, of course, is an important global annual event, where we remember those who struggled and those who succeeded to ensure decent and fair working conditions, not just in Australia but across the world. It is supposed to be a day when we celebrate the hard-won right to eight hours’ work, eight hours’ rest and eight hours’ play. 

But what happens when those eight hours at work result in the death of an employee due to the negligence of an employer? We need to have higher penalties in our workplace laws to deter negligent employers. South Australia needs industrial relations laws to protect workers, their rights and their very lives so they can be safe in dangerous workplaces. Australian workers provide an invaluable service and they deserve these legislative safeguards. Put simply, this bill ensures that if you kill a worker you will face gaol time. 

The Greens have introduced this legislation twice before in the South Australian parliament. During the 2018 state election, I note that the Labor Party, the then government and now opposition, committed to industrial manslaughter laws that were at least as strong as those in Queensland. We will be holding them accountable to that promise. 

The bill today introduces important reforms to improve the safety of workplaces in our state through the principle of corporate criminal responsibility. The primary objective of the bill is to ensure that culpable employers are held responsible for their actions. The offence of industrial manslaughter covers the situation where an individual or corporation’s conduct causes the death of a worker, where that individual or corporation’s recklessness or negligence caused serious harm and death to that worker. 

Under the bill, an employer is guilty of an offence if they breach their duty of care, if they knew or were recklessly indifferent that the act or omission constituting the breach would create a substantial risk of serious harm to a person and, of course, if the breach causes the death of a person. Companies and employers must do everything they reasonably can to prevent workplace injuries and deaths. Through this legislation we seek to ensure that the culpable employers are held responsible for deaths that they cause. If they act in a reckless or negligent manner or if they do not take responsibility for the safety of their workers, the penalties will apply. The penalties in the bill are high, I believe, but I note that they are not the highest in the country. The Greens just want to ensure that employers are taking their duty of care to their employees seriously. 

Every single workplace death, of course, is significant. Each one is a tragedy that will affect forever the lives of many more people. If an employer is negligent or recklessly indifferent to exposing workers to serious risk to their safety and someone dies as a consequence, this should be recognised by our state law as a criminal offence. Such an offence, of course, is not unprecedented and exists in other jurisdictions, such as the Queensland model most recently adopted in Australia, the ACT’s longstanding model and the United Kingdom. As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure that employers have genuine incentive to provide a safe workplace. We have many carrots in our system but we do need a few more sticks. 

Just this past weekend, on 28 April, we again commemorated International Workers’ Memorial Day, a global day that mourns the workers who have lost their lives in a workplace accident or died as a result of their work, be that an incident or in fact a disease. Everyone should be safe at work. Everyone deserves to come home from work safe and to be protected from those industrial diseases or harms. However, far too many have not come home and far too many have come to harm. 

At that ceremony—a most moving ceremony—which takes place each year, I had to reflect that as politicians we have the privilege of seeing people at their best through our jobs, at their highest points but, sadly, we also get to share with them their lowest points. Voices of Industrial Death (VOID), headed by Andrea Madeley, most admirably represents those people who have suffered those lowest points. As politicians, I think it is a privilege to work with those people to ensure that where there has been injustice that is corrected. 

The roll call on Sunday was over 80 in number. The children in the church mourning and grieving their lost family members would have softened even the hardest heart. I was pleased to see minister Rob Lucas carry on the tradition of releasing the blue dove. I was pleased to see the involvement of members of parliament, both state and federal, across all political parties, who were there to share with those families that lowest point of their lives and to give them an assurance that we will stand up for them and that we will do what it takes to ensure justice is done. This year alone, we have already seen 30 worker deaths, and it is only the beginning of May. 

In 2018, over an entire year, we saw 40 worker deaths, according to Safe Work Australia. These numbers are unacceptable. The Greens are not alone in this call for stronger workplace protections, such as creating an industrial manslaughter offence. On 25 February, Safe Work Australia made public its review of Australia’s occupational health and safety laws. That review, conducted by Marie Boland, made 34 recommendations, one of which was to introduce industrial manslaughter laws across Australia. 

Our own parliament has previously made similar recommendations. The Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation undertook an inquiry into the law and processes relating to workplace injuries and death in South Australia, and in that inquiry the committee ‘gave close attention to the offence of industrial manslaughter’. That committee found, based on the evidence presented to the committee, that an offence of industrial manslaughter should be introduced in this state. That was recommendation 20 of that report. That was in 2007. 

I note, of course, that the former Independent the Hon. Nick Xenophon then went on not only to have been part of that review but to bring a bill very similar to this one to this place, yet here we are in 2019 and we still do not have an offence of industrial manslaughter. We need to stop dragging our heels. South Australian workers deserve better; those children in that church deserve better. 

This may not be the perfect bill, but I bring it back before this place because we have time to make the best bill to serve the people of South Australia and the workers of South Australia and their families when they do not return home from work due to reckless indifference and negligence. That culpability deserves a day in court. With those few words, I commend the bill to the council. 

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.J. Stephens.