ACT industrial manslaughter law could be a world first


ACT industrial manslaughter law could be a world first

ACT employers and senior officers would face up to 25 years imprisonment and quarter of a million dollars in fines ($1.25 million for corporations) under a new law tabled in Parliament today.


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ACT employers and senior officers would face up to 25 years imprisonment and quarter of a million dollars in fines ($1.25 million for corporations) under a new law tabled in Parliament today.

If the Bill is passed the ACT could become the first jurisdiction in the world with a specific criminal offence of industrial manslaughter for a death caused by employer negligence or recklessness.

The Crimes (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill creates two new industrial manslaughter offences, one for employers and one for senior officers. The maximum penalty for individuals will be 25 years imprisonment or a fine of $250,000. Corporations would face maximum fines of $1.25 million and community service type court orders.

The Bill was tabled by the ACT IR Minister, Simon Corbell, a member of the minority Labor government of eight in a 17-seat legislative assembly. The proposal needs support from just one of the three members on the cross-bench - a Green, a Democrat or an ex-Liberal independent - to be passed.

Although unavailable for comment at the time of writing, the Greens MP Kerrie Tucker previously told WorkplaceOHS (WorkplaceInfo's sister site) that she would give such legislation 'in-principle support'.

Democrat MP Roslyn Dundas said: 'The ACT Democrats are only willing to support the Government's Industrial Manslaughter Bill if the Government can clearly demonstrate that this law would lead to a drop in workplace injuries and deaths.'

Dundas said she wants to be sure that the Government is doing all that it should be in the areas of education and data collection, and that existing occupational health and safety laws are being enforced.

Mr Corbell said employers have important duties to provide safe and healthy workplaces and that the Bill will ensure that employers who fail to meet these duties can be held accountable if a worker dies.

'While these duties of care are well established in occupational health and safety legislation and common law, there are significant problems in prosecuting employers for manslaughter where they have been breached, especially where the employer is a corporation,' Mr Corbell said today.

Explaining the need for such a Bill, Mr Corbell cited the rise in contract employment and a correlated decrease in employer responsibility for worker safety.

'We have seen an unacceptable intensification of competitive pressures on sub-contractors - particularly in the construction and transport industries - which has the potential to undermine safety controls at these workplaces,' he said.

The Bill would open the door for senior decision makers of corporations, employers generally, Government Ministers and the senior executives of government bodies to be prosecuted.

The issue of Ministerial responsibility was one of the sticking points in similar legislation introduced in Victoria earlier this year. Premier Bracks amended the legislation so that Ministers would be held accountable in the same way as CEOs of private corporations, but the Bill was still knocked down in the Upper House (see previous WorkplaceOHS story). 

Australian Business Limited's Jon Moyes said the Bill was not an appropriate response to the issue of safe workplaces. 'The focus of the ACT Government should be on education, guidance and assistance to ensure safe work practices for and by employees, rather than increased penalties on employers.'

He said the existing sanctions were 'adequate' and greater reporting of breaches was needed.

'The ACT Government should follow the lead of Bracks and Beattie and shelve the legislation,' he said.

ACT Trades and Labor Council Secretary Peter Malone said: 'We do support it in principle, and we do support strong sanctions.'

The Minister said he will immediately refer the Bill to the relevant Standing Committee for further examination and community consultation. The Committee is expected to report by the end of March 2003.

The Bill will be available on the ACT Parliament website later today.

Check the ACT Hansard website for the first reading speeches (not yet available at the time of publishing).

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