Australia must have regulatory reform

The Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) stated that it deplores attempts by parts of the union movement and the New South Wales (NSW) Government to falsely portray Australia’s Prime Minister, the Hon John Howard MP’s commitment to regulatory reform in the minerals industry as undermining mine safety standards. “This is simply an ideologically driven attempt to distract from the real agenda” said MCA Chief Executive, Mitchell H. Hooke.

“Australia’s regulatory systems governing the minerals industry in occupational health and safety and project approvals are now so excessive and complex, so inconsistent across and within jurisdictions, and so disaggregated from progressive, modern company practice, that they have become a capacity constraint in themselves,” Hooke said. “Any suggestion that industry would accept any diminution in mine safety standards could not be further from the truth. And, the Prime Minister clearly shares the minerals industry’s commitment to the absolute safety and health of its workforce and the community in which it operates. There cannot be any reduction in safety standards, but there must be reform to occupational health and safety regulatory systems across all jurisdictions if the industry is to achieve its goal of zero harm in the workplace.

“We are short of our goal of zero harm, and frustrated by the inefficiencies of the existing outmoded, prescriptive, complex, inconsistent and often punitive State regulatory systems. Even so”, Hooke said, “over the decade to 2005-06, the industry’s safety performance has improved markedly on every key performance indicator:”

  • Total lost time injury frequency rate (LTIFR) has declined by nearly 90% from 25 to 3 (LTIFR is the number of lost time injuries per million man hours worked)
  • Fatalities over the same period have decreased by around 66% from 32 to 11
  • Total recordable injury frequency rate (only recorded from 2003 through to 2006) has dropped by around 60% from 36 to 15 (again, this is per million man hours worked and includes all injuries except first aid cases).

The MCA and its State counterparts have assiduously advocated that Governments should provide a regulatory framework that:

  • Encourages a safety culture and promotes the sharing of information on fatalities, injuries and significant incidents
  • Provides before the fact prevention, rather than punitive after the fact retribution
  • Is nationally consistent and risk based
  • Establishes a responsibility of the employer to provide a safe working environment that harnesses responsibility and personal accountability of the individual for their actions.

Hooke said: “It is vital that regulatory systems do not absolve the individual of personal accountability for safety and health by transferring that responsibility to the regulator, or indeed, to the employer. And we are vehemently opposed to a separate statutory offence of industrial manslaughter which automatically assigns guilt to the company/management in removing the test of gross negligence or willful misconduct and mitigates against the assignment of responsibility to other affected parties (organisations or individuals).

“We fully endorse the Prime Minister’s intervention to add vital impetus and substance to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform agenda, as determined at its meeting of 10 February 2006. Those with a vested interest in the archaic regulation and practices of the past continue to seek to stymie critical reforms agreed though the COAG process. Actions by some in the union movement appear motivated more by ‘relevance deprivation’ than by supporting reforms for continuous improvement in workplace health and safety.

“Critically, at the February 2006 meeting, all Governments agreed to accelerate the reform processes of the National Mine Safety Framework (NMSF). The NMSF was established five years ago under the Federal/State Government Ministerial Council on Mining and Petroleum Resources to drive the regulatory reforms industry is advocating. Yet, this process has gone nowhere.

“Equally, we fully endorse the Prime Ministers commitment to improving the project approval system for more efficient and nationally consistent exploration and mining developments, without relaxing environmental, community and safety and health standards. The Prime Minister has clearly signalled that a priority for his Government this year is to significantly progress the third wave of reforms to Australia’s regulatory systems which, from the minerals industry perspective, is a severe supply capacity constraint limiting the industry’s response to the strongest global market growth in a generation.”