Queensland landslide could bring OH&S harmonisation rethink

The Council of Small Business of Australia says the Liberal National Party’s landslide Queensland election win provides an opportunity to rethink the harmonised occupational health and safety laws.

COSBOA executive director Peter Strong says the laws – which have been passed by the Federal Government and some states – need to work for small business as well as big business.

“Let’s have a good look at it and make sure we understand the repercussions on small businesses,” he says.

“Perhaps what’s being put on the table isn’t possible for small business to achieve.”

“They’re probably possible for OH&S experts and large companies, but let’s get together and see if there’s something we can work out and understand.”

Strong’s comments come after Independent Contractors Australia executive director Ken Phillips said the harmonised OH&S laws led by Prime Minister Gillard are now dead, but that states might lead harmonisation rather than Canberra.

The ICA – which says it supports harmonised laws, but not these “damaging” ones – says with the new Queensland government set to overturn OH&S laws passed by the Bligh government, Queensland might instead look to Victoria for a model.

“Victoria’s OHS laws are the most up to date in Australia, having been reviewed and modernised in 2004 under the Bracks Labor government. They’ve proven highly successful,” Phillips writes in Business Spectator.

“The Victorian Liberals are committed to retaining these. And if Queensland were to duplicate the Victorian laws this could generate a harmonisation cascade through the other states.”

The harmonised OH&S laws were supposed to kick in at the start of 2012, but by the start of the year only New South Wales, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory had passed the relevant legislation.

Victoria, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia did not introduce the legislation in time.

The landslide LNP victory is significant for the harmonised laws because the Bligh Government had championed the laws.

The laws mean that:

  • Companies will have broader obligations to consult with people performing work, including contractors.
  • Officers of a corporation will be required to exercise due diligence to ensure the organisation complies with OH&S responsibilities.
  • Prosecutors will need to prove the employer did not take all reasonably practicable measures to prevent the risk to health and safety from taking place.

The laws have met with a mixed response. Many bodies, such as housing bodies and the ICA, said last year the laws were rushed and not the best model for harmonisation.

But its supporters, such as the Ai Group and some OH&S lawyers, argued they would cut costs for businesses operating in jurisdictions across the country and are best practice.

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