AUSTRALIA’S FIRST industrial manslaughter laws, passed by the ACT Parliament, have been condemned by the Federal Government, which has introduced a new federal Bill creating a separate set of rules that will override the ACT laws.
The Crimes (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Act 2003 was introduced by the ACT Government in an attempt to address gaps in ACT criminal legislation regarding the prosecution of companies for manslaughter. The Act makes it simpler to prosecute corporations, according to the ACT Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The ACT Government should have enforced its current laws instead of creating new industrial manslaughter laws which would have penalised businesses, Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews said late last week.
The Federal Government’s amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety (Commonwealth Employment)Act 1991 aim to exclude the ACT law from Commonwealth work places. If passed, the amendments would allow Australian Government employees to be exempt from any other similar laws that could be adopted by individual states and territories in the future.
Arguing no other states had pursued industrial manslaughter laws, Andrews said it was “a shame the ACT Government has decided to go it alone instead of working with other states to improve workplace safety”. He said it was disappointing that pleas from business for the ACT to drop its legislation were ignored by the territory’s government.
“The Australian Government is very concerned about workplace safety — as are all states — but industrial manslaughter laws are not the answer.”
NSW unions, however, have been campaigning for similar legislation.
The focus should be on preventing workplace accidents, Andrews said, not punishment after the event. “Punishing individuals and employers will not work.” Instead, Andrews supported preventative action, sanctions for breaches of workplace safety, and education and training as the best ways to improve workplace safety. He also suggested industrial manslaughter laws were a barrier to safer workplaces.
The ACT already had a general manslaughter offence in the Crimes Act 1900. “The ACT Criminal Code also contains corporate criminal responsibility provisions,” Andrews said.
“Breaches of workplace safety are part of occupational health and safety legislation. The ACT Government has instead chosen to deal with these issues under the general criminal law which will produce a costly and adversarial system,” Andrew said.