Friday, June 18, 2021

WorkSafe must act to ensure integrity of Victoria’s OH&S law

Since July this year, the Victorian Liberal Nationals have called on WorkSafe Victoria (WorkSafe) to investigate allegations of breaches of Victoria’s occupational health and safety (OH&S) law in the Andrews Labor Government’s COVID-19 response.

The Coate Inquiry’s Final Report into the Andrews Labor Government’s initial Hotel Quarantine Program made clear findings in relation to the Government’s failure to provide safe workplaces free of risk to the health of its employees and others, its failure to monitor health and workplace conditions, and to provide information concerning OH&S in its Hotel Quarantine Program.

These failures represent prima facie breaches of Victoria’s OH&S law.

In the wake of the Coate Inquiry’s Final Report, the Opposition’s Shadow Minister for Workplace Safety wrote to WorkSafe CEO Colin Radford seeking an urgent update on WorkSafe’s investigations into the Andrews Labor Government’s Hotel Quarantine Program.

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In his written response to Opposition questioning during the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee’s Inquiry into the government’s COVID-19 response, Radford confirmed there are 23 current investigations relating to OH&S breaches in connection with the pandemic, excluding WorkSafe’s concluded investigation into Cedar Meats Pty Ltd with no charges or prosecution recommended.

On October 13 last year, Labor’s Minister for Workplace Safety, Ingrid Stitt, stated (p 2928) in Parliament that “…the government and government agencies owe duties under occupational safety law like every other employer.”

After six months it is simply unacceptable that WorkSafe has not taken decisive action in relation to the Andrews Labor Government’s shocking failures in managing Hotel Quarantine.

If Hotel Quarantine was managed by a private company, WorkSafe would have certainly initiated legal action against the business for significant OH&S breaches.

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The Andrews Labor Government owes it to the 801 dead, their families, the 200,000 jobless, and all Victorians who have suffered as a result of the “systemic governmental failings” (p 202) in its Hotel Quarantine Program, as well as to the ongoing integrity of Victoria’s OH&S law, to ensure it publicly releases all findings made in these investigations and WorkSafe undertakes prosecutions where appropriate.

Shadow Minister for Workplace Safety, Nick Wakeling said,”After six months and with the indirect assistance of a Board of Inquiry which has been set up, conducted hearings, reviewed 70,000 documents, and handed down two reports within the same timeframe, it is unacceptable that WorkSafe has failed to take decisive action against the Andrews Labor Government in relation to Hotel Quarantine”.

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