Victoria’s $10m WorkSafe boost to prosecute workplace manslaughter

If someone dies at work the site will be treated the way it should be treated: delegates, the site will be treated as a crime scene.” Daniel Andrews said at the ALP’s Victorian conference on Saturday.

Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during the Victorian Labor State Conference at Moonee Valley Racecourse in Melbourne on Saturday.
Premier Daniel Andrews speaks during the Victorian Labor State Conference at Moonee Valley Racecourse in Melbourne on Saturday.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a $10 million package to boost WorkSafe’s capacity to investigate and prosecute workplace manslaughter, thanking the CFMEU and Transport Workers’ Union for their roles in formulating the new policy.

The announcement at the ALP’s Victorian conference on Saturday comes after Labor’s bill to criminalise workplace manslaughter passed the state’s lower house earlier this week.

The bill will see workplace manslaughter punishable with fines for businesses of up to $16.5m and jail terms for individuals of up to 20 years jail.

It will go before the upper house, where Labor holds 18 of 40 seats, in a fortnight.

Business groups say the laws will have a detrimental effect on safety, investment and jobs, and Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien this week warned that the laws could see a wife in a husband-and-wife farming enterprise jailed if her husband died in an on-farm accident.

The new $10m package will pay for a specialist team within WorkSafe, to investigate and prosecute workplace manslaughter, including the recruitment of five new investigators.

It will include the creation of new protocols obliging WorkSafe and Victoria Police to notify families of workplace deaths and serious injuries as soon as possible, and the addition of two dedicated WorkSafe family liaison officers to provide case management for families throughout the investigation of a workplace death and any subsequent legal process.

A $4m “families fund” will ensure families who lose a member in a workplace accident are able to receive additional support, including expanded grief counselling and a dedicated in-house family support service to be piloted at the Coroners Court.

For the first time, truck drivers killed on the road will be counted in the workplace death toll.

Mr Andrews paid tribute to Ballarat woman Lana Cormie, who lost her husband Charlie Howkins, and couple Dave and Janine Brownlee, who lost their son Jack, in a trench collapse last year.

“Delegates, I will always remember meeting Lana Cormie and Dave and Janine Brownlee, two Ballarat families whose men went to work but never came home, and I will never forget what they told me,” Mr Andrews said.

“They said quite simply: ‘We can’t let this happen again’.”

“We’ll make sure that if the worst does happen, families like the Cormies and the Brownlees get the support that they deserve.

“We will establish, I am proud to announce, a new, dedicated, families fund, supporting the loved ones of those we have lost at work, whether it’s covering the cost of childcare, or helping out with urgent bills.”

Mr Andrews said Ms Cormie would be appointed as the first advisory panel member of the families fund.

“I would like to make a special mention of the CFMEU construction division reps in Ballarat, who I met alongside the Brownlees and Cormies, and I want to pay tribute to their support, their advocacy, on behalf of both of those families,” Mr Andrews said.

“Delegates, quite frankly, it is trade unionism at its finest.”

Mr Andrews also paid tribute to the TWU for their “staunch advocacy” on counting truck drivers’ deaths as workplace deaths.

The package will ensure that a worksite is preserved as a crime scene should a workplace death occurs.

“For those businesses who think it’s OK to cut corners on safety, hear me loud and clear when I tell you, there’ll be no more filling in trenches, there’ll be no more buying safety gear after the event,” Mr Andrews said.

“If someone dies at work the site will be treated the way it should be treated: delegates, the site will be treated as a crime scene.”

Up to 30 people die in workplace accidents in Victoria each year. The toll so far has reached 20.

In a CFMEU press release entitled: “Anthony Albanese Fails to Show Up for Australian Workers … Again,” CFMEU boss John Setka said Mr Albanese’s decision not to attend the conference had left thousands of Victorian ALP members “frustrated”, “particularly after Mr. Albanese’s most recent decision to support the free trade agreements – a disaster for Australian jobs and living standards.”

“Mr. Albanese’s failure to face up to workers representatives at the conference is yet another demonstration of his disregard for union workers and continued indifference for the working class,” Mr Setka said.

He also singled out deputy Labor leader and former ACTU assistant secretary Richard Marles, who will address the conference later on Saturday, saying that both Mr Marles and Mr Albanese had “also voted in favour of keeping the Howard government’s anti-union ABCC (Australian Building and Construction Commission) during the Rudd/Gillard government.”

“Mr. Albanese’s ongoing lack of support for Australian workers furthers supports my decision to resign from the Australian Labor Party,” said Mr Setka, who resigned from the party last month amid Mr Albanese’s threat to expel him.

Mr Setka said he was here to stay as a member of the union movement despite his departure from the ALP.