Yesterday’s comment on the woes of mortgage repayments in western Sydney started me thinking about possible unique reasons why this area of Australia is in deeper trouble than any other major region.
There are probably a dozen reasons, but as Jamie Robinson, a Brisbane-based partner at Harmers Workplace Lawyers pointed out in SmartCompany last week, the attempt to have uniform national occupational health and safety rules could have some unintended conseques for growth, particularly in NSW.
It makes absolute sense for Australia to have uniform occupational health and safety rules, but it can’t be arranged because of the NSW situation. In turn, the uniqueness of the NSW OH&S rules are one of many blows being rained on those struggling in western Sydney.
In Australia, when it comes to occupational health and safety, four states (Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania) use the British justice system, whereby an employer is deemed to be innocent of workplace bad practice unless he is proven guilty. But NSW and Queensland have adopted the French justice system in this area and the employers are deemed to be guilty because they are required to have a safe workplace, so they must prove themselves innocent of an offence.
Although Queensland uses the French system in name, there are several clauses in its legislation that increase the fairness of the system. More importantly, the interpretation of the Queensland prosecutors and the justice system is akin to the British system used in the other states. In effect there is no real difference between the Queensland system and that used in Victoria, the leading proponent of the British system.
That leaves NSW different from all other states. So from an employer’s point of view, it is the most dangerous place in Australia to employ people.
The enormous industrial and commercial might of our wealthiest state means that NSW is still able to prosper. But the poor souls in western Sydney thought that their area was going to be an engine room of Australian growth. So, a few years ago, encouraged by bankers and other house lenders, they paid too much for their houses.
The prosperity did not come and one of the reasons why they were hit so hard was the uncompetitive French system of justice in occupational health and safety. Another is the NSW industrial relations laws, which are also not competitive with all other states.
Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Julia Gillard has tried to bring together the separate industrial relations and occupational heath and safety systems, but looks like failing. It would be possible to bring the five states together on both issues, but NSW won’t budge. The wealthiest state is spending large sums on infrastructure that will create jobs and help western Sydney. But longer term, if western Sydney is to fully realise its potential to be Australia’s best non-mining engine room of growth, NSW has to swing in behind the British system of justice in all areas, including OH&S.
This story first appeared in Business Spectator
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