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

Ms VAGHELA (Western Metropolitan): I too rise to speak on the Workplace Safety Legislation Amendment (Workplace Manslaughter and Other Matters) Bill 2019. The bill delivers on the government’s election commitment to introduce new workplace manslaughter laws into the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004.
The bill addresses the need for stronger deterrence and the difficulties currently faced in prosecuting a company for negligent manslaughter under the common law. The purpose of the new workplace manslaughter law is to send a clear message to employers that putting people’s lives at risk in the workplace will not be tolerated. The bill will provide an ongoing role for persons who are affected by workplace incidents involving death or serious injury or illness to engage with the Minister for Workplace Safety.
This legislation delivers upon one of the many important election
commitments we made.
We announced last year in May that if re-elected, workplace manslaughter would become an offence in Victoria. Too many Victorian families have lost a loved one while they were at work. Everyone deserves to come home safe. Up to 30 people are killed at work in Victoria every year—this is 30 deaths too many. Many of these deaths have been of young people who had just started their working lives. We must send a strong message to employers who put lives at risk in the workplace. This bill makes clear that employers will be held to account for the decisions they make when these decisions lead to a loss of life. The bill also ensures that officers of companies—that is, the people that affect a substantial part of the organisation’s business and significantly affect the organisation’s financial standing—are accountable when they make decisions that affect workplace safety.
People have the right to go to work and to come home at the end of the day. We must ensure that workplaces across Victoria are safe. The new offence does not alter the existing obligations for employers. It does, however, impose a real possibility of a serious penalty, being a period of imprisonment or a fine so large that it cannot be factored into the cost of doing business. These penalties are significant and the prospect of jail time is also a serious matter; we do not shy away from that. But going to work and doing your job and then dying at work while you are doing your job—I do not know how much more serious it can get. We work hard as a government in the area of workplace safety in partnership with agencies like WorkSafe Victoria to make sure that people who go to work are safe at work.
When we are talking about someone’s child, someone’s partner, someone’s parent, then it is the job of employers and of companies and businesses to put in place the systems that mean that risk is mitigated and people are safe. All that employers need to do, that they ever need to do, is provide a workplace that is safe. There should be no doubt in the mind of any member of this house or any member of the community that the Andrews Labor government takes workplace safety seriously, and this bill is a way to hold those people accountable. Statistics from the UK show that there has been about a 38 per cent decrease in workplace injuries over a 10-year period from when the UK introduced the corporate manslaughter offence. However, the intention behind the introduction of the offence is to change the conversation around workplace safety so those with the power and resources to uphold workplace safety are held to account.
The industrial manslaughter offence in Queensland had a positive impact on changing the conversation around workplace safety culture in that jurisdiction. The very purpose of this bill is to attribute negligence causing death when it is authorised by the company or those in charge to the company and the persons in charge.
This new offence addresses the gap in the common law that currently makes it difficult for corporations to be held criminally liable. In conclusion, I wish to convey my deepest sympathy to the families and loved ones who have lost someone to a workplace fatality. I appreciate their patience. We want to assure them that we will make sure that those who neglect workplace safety are brought to justice. I commend the bill to the house.