NSW position on national OHS results in PM funding threat

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NSW position on national OHS results in PM funding threat

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has threatened to pull the pin on more than $140m in funding to the NSW Government, if New South Wales reneges on a deal to introduce national OHS laws.

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Prime Minister Julia Gillard has threatened to pull the pin on more than $140m in funding to the NSW Government, if New South Wales reneges on a deal to introduce national OHS laws.
 
The turmoil erupted last week, when NSW Premier Kristina Keneally said she would not support the uniform laws unless they contain provisions that continue the right of NSW unions to launch OHS prosecutions against employers.
 
She also wants the state’s ‘reverse onus of proof’ to remain so that employers have to prove they took all reasonably practicable steps to prevent a workplace accident.
 
In response to Keneally’s demands, Gillard has written to the Premier saying the $144m in funding is dependent on the ‘progress on OHS reforms according to the agreed (COAG) milestones’.
 
‘The national partnership agreement to deliver a seamless economy provides for rewards payments to NSW of up to $144.1m in 2011–12 and 2012–13,’ Gillard said.
 
‘The Council of Australian Governments must work on the basis that jurisdictions honour their commitments.’
 
Think of the nation
 
Gillard urged the Premier to ‘put the national interest above purely jurisdictional considerations’.
 
‘National model occupational health and safety laws will save businesses around $179 million per annum and, importantly, improve safety for workers,’ the PM said.
 
However, Keneally has refused to back down, labelling Gillard’s threat ‘an overreaction and heavy handed’.
 
Election draws closer
 
With the State Election in March 2011, employers have accused the NSW Government of attempting to shore up union support by ambushing the Federal Government.
 
Relations with the unions soured when the Iemma Government attempted to privatise the state’s electricity system in 2008. The Keneally Government is expected to be heavily defeated in the March election but, with the financial and electioneering help of the union movement, may save some Labor seats currently under threat.
 
NSW Business Chamber CEO, Stephen Cartwright, described Keneally’s decision to renege on the agreement as being demonstrative of a ‘dreadful government going from bad to worse’.
 
‘For the NSW Government to thumb its nose at Federal OH&S harmonisation after years of hard work reaching agreement is vandalism of the worst kind. Business is angry,’ he said.
 
Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout said stepping away from the uniform OHS laws was ‘extremely retrograde’.
 
‘The Federal and State Governments committed to uniform national OHS laws after an exhaustive public consultation process and a review by an independent panel,’ she said.
 
Unions give thumbs up
 
But the union movement fully supports Keneally’s move.
 
ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said the proposed national workplace safety laws must ensure that the highest standards and protections are provided to all Australian workers.
 
Lawrence said the national occupational health and safety system should always have included a right for third party prosecutions over serious accidents and an onus on employers to prove they provide a safe workplace.
 
‘Unions have always maintained it was a major oversight for the proposed national laws not to include these rights from the outset,’ he said.
 
‘The NSW laws contain these two elements and unions are pleased to see the Keneally Government is determined to maintain them. [Kennelly’s announcement] opens the door for a rethink about the uniform OHS system for all states and territories.’
 
Gillard won’t budge
 
All states and territories (except Western Australia), business and unions finally agreed to a harmonised OHS system in December.
 
Gillard was instrumental in pushing the national system through and cited it in her first speech as PM as one of her achievements as IR Minister.
 
Gillard is therefore unlikely to accept the NSW Government’s demands.
 
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