On 26 March 2018, the Senate referred the following matter to the Education and Employment References Committee (the committee) for inquiry and report by 20 September 2018:
The framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia, with particular reference to:
(a) the effectiveness and extent of the harmonisation of workplace safety legislation between the states, territories and Commonwealth;
(b) jurisdictional issues surrounding workplace investigations which cross state and territory boundaries;
(c) issues relating to reporting, monitoring and chains of responsibility between states, territories and the Commonwealth;
(d) safety implications relating to the increased use of temporary and labour hire workers;
(e) the role of employers and unions in creating a safe-work culture;
(f) the effectiveness of penalties in situations where an employer has been convicted of an offence relating to a serious accident or death; and
(g) any other related matters.
On 16 August 2018, the Senate granted an extension of time to report until 4 October 2018. Subsequently, on 13 September 2018 the Senate granted a further extension of time to report until 17 October 2018.
Conduct of inquiry
Notice of the inquiry was posted on the committee's website. The committee also wrote to key stakeholders to invite submissions.
The committee received 69 submissions, as detailed at Appendix 1.
The committee held eight public hearings:
30 August in Fremantle; and
19 September in Canberra.
A list of witnesses who appeared at these hearings is at Appendix 2.
Structure of the report
During the course of the inquiry the committee identified several critical issues relating to the framework surrounding the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia.
Chapter 2 of this report sets out a selection of family voices to the inquiry in an attempt to convey the profound sense of loss and pain experienced by families when a loved one is tragically killed at work.
Chapter 3 provides background information on the rate of industrial deaths in Australia, the legislative framework in place to deal with workplace fatalities, and the safety implications of the increased use of precarious employment practices.
Chapter 4 turns to matters relating to the investigation of industrial deaths, including investigation quality and cross-jurisdictional issues.
Chapter 5 examines a range of issues related to the prosecution of industrial deaths, including the offence of industrial manslaughter and the adequacy of the current financial penalties.
Chapter 6 identifies the core areas of support that impacted families require as they navigate their grief in conjunction with the numerous regulatory processes that arise after an industrial death.
The committee thanks those individuals and organisations who contributed to this inquiry by preparing written submissions and giving verbal evidence at hearings.
In particular the committee acknowledges the grief and pain of all those families that have lost a loved one in an industrial incident and chose to share their experience with the committee. The committee is keenly aware that the retelling of traumatic experiences takes an emotional and physical toll. The committee sincerely thanks those families for their courage and strength in sharing their stories and concerns for the purpose of informing the committee's deliberations on this very important topic.
The committee would also like to acknowledge the advocacy of Mrs Kay Catanzariti, whose 21 year old son Ben was killed on a Canberra construction worksite in 2012. Mrs Catanzariti has been tireless in her campaign to raise awareness of the issues impacting families who lose a loved one to an industrial incident. Her lobbying efforts contributed to the referral of this inquiry, and she is highly committed to seeking legislative change to improve the frameworks surrounding industrial deaths. The committee applauds her determination and courage in speaking out.
Notes on references
References in this report to the Hansard for the public hearings are to the proof Hansard. Page numbers may vary between the proof and official Hansard transcripts.