Legislative Council: Thursday, May 05, 2022


Question Time

SafeWork SA

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (14:20): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking a question of the Minister for Industrial Relations regarding SafeWork SA.

Leave granted.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI: In 2016, Gayle Woodford was murdered providing health care to remote communities in the north-west of the state. Ms Woodford's family feels totally betrayed by the decision of SafeWork SA not to prosecute Gayle's employer, the Nganampa Health Council, for any breaches of the Work Health and Safety Act. SafeWork SA's decision was made in spite of a damning Coroner's report finding major deficiencies with staffing and safety practices leading up to the murder.

An ICAC report has raised questions about SafeWork SA's capacity to investigate and prosecute cases involving worker and public safety and meet its charter of protecting workers and the public. Commissioner Lander said, 'SafeWork SA is lost in a sea of overly convoluted, unnecessary and ineffective policies.' My questions are:

1. Can the minister assure the council and the family of Gayle Woodford that the decision of SafeWork SA not to prosecute the employer in the tragic death of the Gayle Woodford case was not as a result of poor culture, policies or processes within SafeWork SA?

2. Can the minister assure the council and the family of Gayle Woodford that the decision for SafeWork SA not to prosecute the employer in the tragic death of the Gayle Woodford case was not as a result of the resources available to SafeWork SA to mount a prosecution?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:21): I thank the honourable member for her question. It is a very important issue and does raise important issues. It was an absolute tragedy when Gayle Woodford lost her life serving the community of Fregon, or Kaltjiti as it is called in the Pitjantjatjara language, in 2016. I was in Kaltjiti only weeks after the death of Gayle and know just how hard the community took Gayle's death and just how fondly she was remembered and how appreciative the community of Kaltjiti was for her service in caring for that very remote community.

In the aftermath of the tragic death of Gayle Woodford, this parliament passed laws that have been remembered in her honour, Gayle's Law, to try to ensure that we don't see repeats of these sorts of things, to make sure that there are two people attending medical emergencies for remote nurses in remote communities like Kaltjiti. I think that was a day showing how parliament works well, when Gayle's Law passed this chamber, some years ago.

In relation to the SafeWork investigation and the Coroner's report, I have had the benefit of being provided a briefing and advice from senior counsel who looked at all the evidence. I know SafeWork spent almost 12 months, I understand had 12 officers investigating the circumstances, doing interviews, reviewing the evidence.

Having had the benefit of being provided a briefing and the conclusions of advice from senior counsel, I can say that in this case the advice from outside senior counsel after the investigation led SafeWork to the conclusion, based on what they received, that there was not a reasonable prospect of success of a prosecution. Prosecutorial authorities in South Australia are bound by the DPP's prosecutorial standards, of which that is the threshold standard when launching prosecution if the evidence could possibly support a successful prosecution. In this case that wasn't where the evidence led.

My heart goes out to, and my condolences are with, Gayle Woodford's family. I know every time part of this is revisited, it's not easy on the family that is left behind. I know that the Coroner made some very strong findings and I know it's not always easy to separate a coronial finding and what is said and the conclusions from a coroner's finding with something like prosecutorial discretion.

The threshold for the Coroner to draw conclusions is that of a civil standard: that is on balance of probabilities. The threshold for SafeWork or anyone who launches criminal prosecution is beyond a reasonable doubt. With those different thresholds, with the almost 12 months of investigation, the advice led to the conclusion from SafeWork that there wasn't a reasonable prospect of a conviction in their prosecution.

That is not to say that SafeWork can't and shouldn't improve what they do. It was a commitment we took to the last election that we are enacting, to review the practices and procedures of SafeWork SA. I have no doubt that there are areas of SafeWork that could improve—there are not many areas of government that couldn't improve. Something we will be doing over the coming months is implementing that review of the practices and procedures of SafeWork SA to make sure it is as effective and efficient as it possibly can be in these sorts of cases.