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Speech: Work Health & Safety Industrial Manslaughter Amendment Bill

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (16:07): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today, I rise to reintroduce the Greens' Work Health and Safety (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill. This bill creates a new offence in South Australia of industrial manslaughter. 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 speak for themselves.

It is no coincidence that I bring this legislation back before the parliament today just prior to Labour Day, a day where we commemorate the achievements of the Australian labour movement and recognise workers' contributions towards the nation's economy and social fabric. It is supposed to be a day where we celebrate the hard-won right to eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours of play. But what happens when those eight hours of work are deadly due to the negligence of one's employer?

We need to have higher penalties in our workplace laws to deter negligent employers. South Australia needs industrial relations laws to protect workers and their rights so that they cannot just feel but be safe in dangerous workplaces. Australian workers provide an invaluable service and they deserve to have the highest legislative safeguards.

The Greens have introduced this legislation three times before in this parliament. During the 2018 state election, the Labor Party, I reflect, committed to industrial manslaughter laws that are at least as strong as those in Queensland. We will be holding them accountable to that promise. Since the last time we debated this bill, the penalties have been updated to better reflect the legislation in Queensland.

This bill introduces important reforms to improve the safety of workplaces in our state 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 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 this bill, an employer would be found guilty of an offence if the employer breaches their duty of care, the employer knew or was recklessly indifferent that the act or omission constituting the breach would create substantial risk of serious harm to a person, and 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 culpable employers are held responsible for the deaths they cause if they act in a reckless or negligent manner. If they do not take responsibility for the safety of their workers, then penalties will and should apply. The penalties in this bill are high, but I note that they are not the highest in the country. The Greens simply want to ensure that employers are taking their duty of care to their employees most seriously.

Every single workplace death is profound. Each one is its own tragedy that will affect the lives of many others forever. If an employer is negligent or recklessly indifferent to exposing workers to serious risk to their safety and someone dies as a consequence of that, this should be recognised by our law as a criminal offence. Such an offence is not unprecedented and exists in many other legislatures, such as Queensland most recently, previously the ACT and, as I have often noted, the United Kingdom.

As lawmakers, it is our responsibility in this place to ensure that employers have a genuine incentive to provide a safe workplace. We have so many carrots in our system and we do need a few sticks as well. Everyone should be safe at work. Everyone deserves to come home safe and to be protected from industrial disease or harms, but far too many do not come home, do come to harm and there is often no consequence.

So far in 2020, 110 Australian workers have been killed at work. In 2019, that number was 182, compared to 144 in 2018. All of these numbers are unacceptable, and in all of these numbers there are individual stories of tragedy, pain, loss, harm and a lack of justice. The Greens are not alone in our call for stronger workplace protections such as this one creating the industrial manslaughter offence. On 25 February last year, Safe Work Australia made public its review of Australia's occupational health and safety laws. That review was conducted by Marie Boland and it made 34 recommendations, one of which was to introduce industrial manslaughter laws across Australia.

Our own parliament has also made the same 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. In that inquiry, the committee gave close attention to the offence of industrial manslaughter. It found, based on the evidence presented the committee, that an offence of industrial manslaughter should be introduced in this state.

Recommendation 20 as part of that report was that, 'South Australia introduce an offence of industrial manslaughter.' That was way back in 2007, yet here we are and we still do not have an offence of industrial manslaughter. We need to stop dragging our heels. Our South Australian workers deserve better. Every worker deserves to come home safe. If they do not, their families and their loved ones deserve justice. With that, I commend the bill to the council.

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