Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019

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I stand to support the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019, and I am so honoured to do so. The introduction of this bill delivers on the Andrews Labor government’s election commitment to introduce new workplace manslaughter laws in the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, the OH&S act. This is a piece of legislation that is very close to my heart and to a great number of members of the Ballarat community following numerous workplace deaths in our community. The introduction of these new offences will be a strong deterrent and will hold those with power and resources accountable for workplace safety. As a former union official in the steel and printing industries, I know these laws will save lives and make workplaces safer.

I really want to sincerely thank the Premier and the Minister for Workplace Safety for the introduction of this bill and the Parliamentary Secretary for Workplace Safety, who just spoke, for chairing the implementation task force, which has included business, unions and victims’ families, to consult on the detail of the proposed laws. The Premier, the minister and the parliamentary secretary’s hands-on approach to the establishment of workplace manslaughter laws is a strong display of Labor’s commitment to Victorian workers.

I also wish to acknowledge everyone who has been involved in the process of developing this groundbreaking legislation, especially the families who have suffered the death of a loved one at work as well as the union movement for their advocacy and campaigning. Over the last year I have had the opportunity to spend time and get to know Lana Cormie and Dave and Janine Brownlee. They are extraordinary, brave advocates on a crusade to make sure that no-one has to experience what they have: the workplace death of a husband and a child. I wish to thank them for the important contribution they have made to the workplace manslaughter implementation task force and the work they have done to raise awareness in our community.

I am pleased that this bill will provide an ongoing role for people impacted by workplace deaths or serious injury or illness to engage with the Minister for Workplace Safety. The lived experience and the perspectives of victims’ family members and friends as well as the experiences of co-workers are voices we need to hear to ensure that we address and transform attitudes and behaviours at workplaces across Victoria.

I would also like to acknowledge the role of the Ballarat Regional Trades and Labour Council and its secretary, Brett Edgington, for the role they have played in advocating for workplace manslaughter laws and the work they do in supporting families and the Ballarat community impacted by workplace deaths.

I strongly believe that the work you do should never come at a personal cost to your physical and mental health and wellbeing, but for too many in this community and our state it has. In the last three years in Victoria there have been 70 workplace fatalities. You know and I know that there are real people behind these numbers: young workers, experienced workers, men and women, farmers, tradies—hardworking people who go to work every day to provide a better standard of living for themselves and their families.

Sadly most of these deaths have occurred in regional Victoria, including in my home of Ballarat. In September I was saddened to hear of the workplace death of a 56-year-old man at a residential building site at Mount Pleasant. Again, just two weeks ago, during our last sitting week, in my electorate a 50-year-old man was killed in an industrial accident in Delacombe after being trapped in a machine while it was working. I wish to pass on my deepest sympathies to the families and friends of these workers. I would also like to acknowledge and send my best wishes to the co-workers who were there on the scene. It would have been a traumatic experience, and I hope that you are getting support after witnessing these incidents. We are introducing this legislation to improve workplace safety and to save lives. These statistics are real people whose lives have been tragically cut short because of a preventable incident.

One year ago I stood with Lana Cormie, Dave and Janine Brownlee and Janine’s mum, Val Cody, on pre-poll in the lead-up to the state election campaign as they shared their heartbreaking story. With pictures of Charlie and Jack and a letter written by Lana they asked the community to vote to make workplaces safer so no-one else would have to go through what they did. Since then there has been the first anniversary of the incident. There have been many birthdays, Christmas—tough days, less tough days and really tough days. Life has gone on, but it has been forever changed for Lana and the Howkins and the Brownlees. Their deaths and the deaths of so many others have ripped the heart out of families, friends, colleagues and communities.

I have previously spoken in this place about the devastating Delacombe trench disaster—in my inaugural speech and on the first anniversary earlier this year. I would like to take this opportunity again to again share what happened to Charlie and Jack and what caused the deaths of two good men who had their whole lives ahead of them. Jack Brownlee was 21 and Charlie Howkins was 34 on the morning of Wednesday, 21 March, when the disaster occurred in Delacombe. Charlie was buried by tonnes of loose earth and was killed instantly. Emergency services fought for several hours to free Jack. He was airlifted to Royal Melbourne and died the following day. Two families, formerly strangers, are now forever united by the shared experience of having their lives shattered and their hearts broken on that tragic Wednesday. The lives of family members and so many friends were changed forever when Jack and Charlie did not come home from work. Charlie’s wife, Lana, kissed him goodbye at breakfast and he was gone by lunch. The love of her life had been killed, and their two very young children had their dad taken away forever. Dave, Janine, Mitch, Val and their families lost their beloved Jacky Boy, a larrikin with a huge personality that brought such joy to his close-knit family—taken too soon.

Workplace tragedies have a ripple effect on the community, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank our emergency services for all they do on the front line: our paramedics, our police, our firefighters, our nurses, our doctors and others too who are impacted by workplace accidents and fatalities. Because of Jack and Charlie and the many other workplace deaths, we are introducing new workplace manslaughter laws with severe penalties and jail time. Whilst these laws will not bring back Jack and Charlie, other families will be saved from the pain that their families live with. I promised on election night and again on the anniversary of Charlie and Jack’s deaths that we would not let you down, and I am so proud to support this bill for you and so many others.

Under these proposed new laws we will make workplace manslaughter a criminal offence. Employers will face fines of more than $16 million, and individuals responsible for negligently causing death will be held to account and face up to 20 years in jail. The penalty must be a strong enough deterrent to make employers take workplace safety seriously and not rely on deep pockets to avoid accountability while cutting corners on safety.

The new workplace manslaughter laws will send a clear message to employers and the community that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated. Making workplace manslaughter a criminal offence will be a strong deterrent to rogue operators and dodgy employees and will hold those with power and resources accountable. The Andrews Labor government wants to ensure that all Victorians are safe in their workplaces, and I ask all members of this place and the Parliament to support this important legislation.