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Belated law reform on workplace deaths

Federal law reform is coming for families who have lost loved ones at work, almost three years after a parliamentary inquiry into industrial deaths.

Changes agreed by Australia’s workplace health and safety ministers a fortnight ago will make it easier for regulators to prosecute employers.

Safe Work Australia chief executive Michelle Baxter said there would also be significant increases in penalties.

“Those offence provisions, in order to be invoked or relied upon, do not depend upon the death of a person at a workplace,” Ms Baxter told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

In 2018, a Senate inquiry examined the prevention, investigation and prosecution of industrial deaths in Australia and issued a detailed report.

An independent review led by Marie Boland made 34 recommendations to the federal government in 2019.

Despite delays, Industrial Relations Minister Michaelia Cash said the recommendations were a priority, and jurisdictions were working together to address all of them.

“That sends a very clear message to all Australians, but in particular employers and employees, that we take these model laws and the consequences of breaching these model laws very seriously,” she said.

Labor senator Deborah O’Neill acknowledged family members who lost loved ones and gave evidence to the Senate almost three years ago.

“People are watching,” she said.

“Many of those people who came forward also expressed a concern about the lack of a crime for industrial manslaughter.”

A national industrial relations regime to make industrial manslaughter an offence has been resisted by the Morrison government, but some states have made the change in response to community concern.

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