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Speech Work Health and Safety (Industrial Manslaughter)


The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:58): It is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak on behalf of the Greens in support of this bill. In fact, the Greens have introduced this legislation at least four times before in this parliament, and I also recall attempting amendments to the harmonised work health and safety laws in government bills previously.

This bill seeks to capture that 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 speak for themselves. We need to have higher penalties in our workplace laws to deter negligent employers.

Let's remember, industrial manslaughter means that there has been a death. While we have heard some moralising about how everyone is innocent until proven guilty, I would like to moralise a little about how a workplace death should be treated as a death and given the seriousness that any other death would be given under our laws if it did not take place in a workplace.

South Australia needs industrial relations laws to protect workers and their rights so that they can feel save in dangerous workplaces and be kept safe in their workplaces. Australian workers provide an invaluable service. They deserve to have legislative safeguards. This bill introduces important reforms to improve the safety of our state's workplaces through the principle of corporate criminal responsibility. The primary objective of this bill is to ensure that culpable employers are held responsible for their actions.

The offence of industrial manslaughter covers the situation where an individual's or corporation's conduct causes the death of a worker, where that individual's or corporation's recklessness or negligence caused serious harm and death to that worker. Companies and employers must do everything they can reasonably do to prevent workplace injuries and deaths. Through this legislation we will seek to ensure that culpable employees are held responsible for deaths they cause if they act in a reckless or negligent manner. If they do not take responsibility for the safety of their workers, penalties will apply.

The Greens believe that employers need to take their duty of care to their employees seriously. Every single workplace death is significant. Each one is a tragedy that affects the lives of many forever. 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 laws as a criminal offence. Such an offence is not unprecedented. It exists in other legislation such as that of Queensland, the ACT and the United Kingdom. As legislators, it is our responsibility to ensure that employers have a genuine incentive to provide a safe workplace. We have many, many carrots in our system, but we do need a few sticks.

Everyone should be safe at work. Everyone deserves to come home safe. Everyone deserves to come home from work and be protected from industrial disease or harms, but far too many have not come home and far too many have come to harm. In 2022, 169 people lost their lives at work. In 2021, that number was 194. That is 194 families, loved ones, with loss and grief. That is 194 lives ended.

In February 2019, Safe Work Australia made public its review of Australia's occupational health and safety laws. This review, conducted by Marie Boland, made 34 recommendations, one of which was to introduce industrial manslaughter laws right across Australia. Our own parliament here in South Australia has made these same recommendations. The occupational safety, rehabilitation and compensation committee undertook an inquiry into the law and processes relating to workplace injuries and death in South Australia. In this inquiry, the committee 'gave close attention to the offence of industrial manslaughter' and found:

Based on the evidence presented the Committee concluded that an offence of industrial manslaughter should be introduced in this State.

Recommendation 20 as part of this report was that South Australia introduce an offence of industrial manslaughter. That report was in 2007, and yet here we are in 2023 still without an offence of industrial manslaughter. South Australian workers deserve better. The South Australian parliament will now do better. It is time we treat industrial manslaughter as the abhorrent offence it is.

With that, I want to reflect, as the Hon. Emily Bourke has done, on the impact and the work of Andrea Madeley and Voice of Industrial Death and the particular connection that I have had over the years with Pam Gurner-Hall, who I have come to know because she lost Jorge Castillo-Riffo on the site of the new RAH. I am sorry that this does not bring him back, Pam, but I know that it goes a long way to knowing that the legacy going forward means that we have better laws and hopefully fewer workplace deaths.

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