On 23rd September 2020, the Greens introduced the Work Health and Safety (Industrial Manslaughter) Amendment Bill 2020 in the Legislative Council. This Bill replaces the 2019 version that lapsed when the Parliament was prorogued late in 2019.
The 2020 Bill is similar to the 2019 version, but with changes to the penalty provisions. It calls for jail terms of up to 20 years for company officers and employers who are natural people who knew, or were recklessly indifferent, to the risk that an act or omission in breach of their primary duty of care would create a substantial risk of serious harm to a person and the breach causes a person's death. In any other case, the Bill proposes a far higher maximum fine of $13,000,000, up from $1,000,000 in the 2019 Bill. The high fine is intended to align the SA Bill with existing Queensland legislation.
In common with previous versions, the Bill also sets out the following:
- A defence to a charge of industrial manslaughter if the defendant can prove that their alleged breach occurred in the course of an emergency or was authorised under this or any other Act or law of the State or the Commonwealth; and
- If at trial a jury is not satisfied the accused is guilty of industrial manslaughter, it can find a defendant guilty of a different breach of the WHS Act; and
- An employer and an officer of the employer can both be found guilty of industrial manslaughter relating to a particular death.
This is the third industrial manslaughter Bill introduced by the Greens. In 2015, the first of them was referred to the Parliamentary Committee on Occupational Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation. In February 2016, SISA provided a submission to the Committee setting out our objections to the Bill, particularly with regard to the unfounded assumption that higher penalties are a greater deterrent for negligent employers. We submitted that the penalties set out in the Work Health & Safety Act and the Criminal Law Consolidation Act were more than adequate and ought not be disturbed. SISA also appeared before the Committee to reinforce these comments. You can read our 2016 submission by clicking here.
You can download the committee's 2016 report and recommendations by clicking here.
In its response to the Committee's recommendations, the Government of the day stated that The Government...agrees with the committee that there are adequate legal safeguards in place to address the consequences of workplace deaths, and agrees that a new offence of industrial manslaughter [is] unnecessary...
You can view both the referral to the Committee and the response by the then Minister by clicking here and selecting 'Inquiry into Industrial Manslaughter Amendments'.
The 2015 Bill was subsequently not proceeded with. As noted earlier, the 2019 Bill lapsed.
The SISA Executive Committee will discuss the new Bill and determine the appropriate next steps.