Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


Industrial Manslaughter

The Hon. J.E. HANSON (15:41): I think it is pretty consistent with Australian values that when I say something like people should not put cost-cutting or profit ahead of workers' or people's lives, that sits pretty comfortably with the Australian set of values. Around about 2007, a young and somewhat idealistic person starting his work at the Australian Workers' Union as a legal officer back then sat down and read a report. That report said a pretty interesting thing. It said that South Australia should introduce this offence of industrial manslaughter.

This young person sat there—I sat there—and thought, 'Yes, that sits pretty fairly with me. That sits with the Australian set of values.' Well, sadly, it has taken a little bit of time. It is now 2023. Every South Australian worker, every Australian worker really, should be able to access the fundamental right to come home from work and be alive—not yet. Workers are still not guaranteed access to that most basic of rights—they are still not—to the tune of a conservative estimate of more than 100 human lives over the last decade in our state alone.

We are almost there, though. The Labor Party at the last election promised that it would bring in industrial manslaughter laws. Very recently, we moved them through this house very successfully with the help of some of our crossbench colleagues. I particularly acknowledge in that fact the Greens.

I want to say today to the families of those workers who have not come home, to those families who are exhausted from beating their fists against a brick wall on this issue for many decades, I am sorry. I am sorry you have not been heard or acknowledged in the way that you deserve. To the leaders of industrial advocates—my good friends in the union movement, myself not that long ago among them—who have been exhausted by the lobbying, the endless protesting, the trying to convince people to put an end to it, I am sorry it has taken too long.

The fact is, until now there were modest fines—very modest fines—that could typically be claimed against insurance for a death of someone at work. If someone died you could claim that on insurance. Insurance for a human life. Well, I am sorry, recognising the severity of preventable workplace deaths arising from negligence or recklessness should not have taken this long, but it has.

I wholeheartedly convey my gratitude and my commendations to the Attorney-General and his staff. They are all people, and he is a person, of unfaltering conviction in this and many other areas of industrial relations. The fact that this moment is now arriving under his watch, and his hardworking staff's watch, is a commendation to them.

I commend members of this place and the other—both past and present—who have been firm advocates of industrial manslaughter laws. The fact is, there are too many to name in five minutes, but I do want to honour some of those who spoke here over the years while I have been here: the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Mark Parnell, the Hon. Rob Simms, the Hon. Tammy Franks, in particular come to mind.

I convey my solidarity again to my comrades in the union movement who have never faltered in their advocacy and are a primary reason why this legislation has come about. Most importantly, I want to acknowledge every family who has lost a loved one in a workplace death. Anyone who has ever been around something like that would know what that means. I also acknowledge every South Australian worker who has ever died at work. Each of you had the same right to safety as any other person and it is a shame to all of us that this right was denied and that it took so long for us to get the laws that we are going to put in place now.

All aspects of criminal law are based on deterrents, and that will be the objective of these laws. It is not about punishing people; it is about prevention. In that regard, I have to say that some of the comments from the Liberal Party and, indeed, One Nation about potential reputational damage have been disappointing in this regard when we are talking about workers' lives. That is what this bill will be about: preventing deaths at work.