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Western Australia – state of confusion?

Despite almost 2 years having passed since the nationalisation process of work health and safety laws was supposed to have been completed there is still no clear answer as to what WA’s final position will be. This is leaving business, employees, unions and those considering investing in businesses operating in WA in a state of confusion and runs the risk of impacting safety the state.

Not long ago the information coming from Government was that the cabinet had decided to amend WA’s laws to adopt many of the parts of nationalisation, but not to adopt the national legislation. This position seems to have changed with parliamentary drafts people now finalising drafts of both Resources Work Health and Safety Act (including major hazards facilities provisions – which will be removed from the Dangerous Goods Safety Act) and a general Work Health and Safety Act based on the nationalised legislation. The intention is to introduce these bills before parliament in the current sittings.

Recently WA Attorney General Minister Michael Mischin was quoted as saying the government will decide its final position as soon as possible certainly in the in the next 3 – 4 months. The delay is difficult to understand when a regulatory impact statement into changes in the regulations was conducted 12 months ago and it decided not to conduct a RIS in relation to the model Act. Further, WA’s own reviews of its safety legislation (conducted as part of the 5 years statutory review requirements in the current acts) have been available to the government to consider for some years and have recommended changes to the legislation.

The delay in making a decision even if the plan is to adopt the laws after the 2014 SafeWork Australia review of the legislation or to adopt the key provisions in 18 or 24 months’ time means that businesses may not make the improvements to their systems to ensure compliance with the model nationalised laws. To do so runs the risk of incurring costs to undo the changes or make further changes once updated legislation is enacted.

Whilst Mr Mischin says that WA is second only to Victoria (which is not nationalising) in terms of health and safety outcomes it is questionable whether it will remain so when there is so much continuing uncertainty as to what changes, if any, will be made to the WA’s WHS laws. The WA Government should act now to provide certainty as to its intensions in this important area.

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