by Luke Voogt
Local coalition MP Bev McArthur has labelled recently-passed workplace manslaughter legislation “actively damaging” and “counterproductive”.
The Member for Western Victoria on Tuesday said the new laws unfairly disadvantaged family farms.
But Workplace Safety Minister Jill Hennessy last week slammed similar “hypocritical” Liberal Party arguments saying prosecution would only occur when in the “public interest”.
The bill passed the Victorian upper house last week, with the legislation to come into effect next July.
But Mrs McArthur said the legislation was a “publicity stunt” placing an extra compliance burden on employers that was “particularly costly for small business and farms”.
“Negligent manslaughter is already covered under common law, which includes injury and death in the workplace.”
Mrs McArthur said she lost a son in a road incident involving two workers and her father had endured quadriplegia since a farm accident as a contractor.
But the legislation could not bring her son back or restore her father to full working capacity, she said.
State Government was “hypocritical” for not adopting the coalition’s proposed amendments to exclude family farms and explicitly include Crown bodies in the legislation, she said.
The legislation could particularly affect farmers, who could be both “employers and employees” and often employed family members, Mrs McArthur said.
But Minister Hennessy dismissed similar Liberal Party arguments including that prosecutors could charge widows of farmers under the legislation.
“The opposition have been briefed time and time again that there is a discretion for the office of public prosecution to only prosecute when it’s in the public interest,” she said.
“I’d point to things like migrant workers who have been killed falling off the backs of utes that will be covered by these laws.
“The opposition has sought to find every fig leaf to vote against this bill and I think it is an act of high-order hypocrisy for the Liberal Party to run around pretending they’re tough on crime.
“When it comes to workplace manslaughter and deaths in the workplace they vote against it.”
Ms Hennessy last week announced the bill passing alongside families who had lost loved ones to workplace accidents.
While the laws could not bring their family members back, they would deter and hold to account those engaging in criminal workplace negligence, she said.
Ballarat’s David Brownlee, who lost a son to a workplace accident, congratulated government on the laws.
“We hope no other families have to walk in our shoes – it’s a traumatic thing to lose a child.”