||Issue No. 201||31 October 2003|
Interview: No Ifs, No Butts
Unions: National Focus
Industrial: Fools Gold
Bad Boss: Bones of Contention
History: The Gong Show
Politics: The Hawke Legacy
International: Sick Nation
Economics: Closed Minds
Review: Mixing Pop and Politics
Poetry: One Size Fits All
The Locker Room
The Miracle Of Tom
That's right $1800: the amount the employer responsible for the death of another teenager, Dean McGoldrick, three years ago, has paid for sending him to his death.
That figure has exposed the problems in the current law - a system of fines that allows individuals to hide behind a corporations law that allows companies to dodge their debt by liquidating and rising like a Phoenix to continue business as usual.
It has also exposed a judiciary that sees nothing wrong with locking up drink-drivers who kill, but draws the line at company executives with QCs who say sorry.
And it has exposed a state bureaucracy in WorkCover that exhibits all the finesse, forethought and follow-through of a subbie who sends a teenager onto a roof without a harness.
In short it has exposed a vicious cycle of employers who cut corners, courts that see this as acceptable and government that is not prepared to take on the Top End of Town.
While 10,000 building workers have made a noise about this pathetic state of affairs outside NSW Parliament this week, the response from inside the gates has been a deafening silence.
The Minister for Industrial Relations (now, ironically, known as 'Commerce') has taken the Sir Humphrey option and ordered a number of reviews of the system, while the Premier has ruled out legislating to make industrial manslaughter a crime. As for the Opposition, what Opposition?
The resistance of the Carr Government to the simple proposition that employers must take personal responsibility for workplace deaths is bewildering, particularly when compared with its hairy-chested rhetoric on most other aspects of the criminal code.
There is no way you can legislate against genuine accidents but you can - and should - put in place penalties for conscious acts and omissions that lead to a person's death.
The Premier's argument that there is already a crime of manslaughter in the criminal code is disingenuous - police will attest to the fact that without a special crime that links criminal sanctions to the management of workers, there is no prospect of a successful employer prosecution.
Moreover, Bob Carr knows better than anyone else that the deterrent value of specific crimes and their vigorous enforcement do lead to behaviour change To use his own words, that's what 'zero tolerance' and 'carefully crafted laws' are designed to achieve.
Special laws on gangs, knifes, guns, sexual assault are all heralded from the rooftops, but when it comes to addressing behaviour that leads to a fatality every single week, this Law and Order Administration seems to have run out of steam.
There have been attempts to bring in similar laws in the past, the Victorian Upper House blocked such a package in the Bracks Goverment's first term, while the ACT Legislative Assembly is currently considering a similar proposition.
But to date they have all fallen over, because of a lack of political will, and the shrill influence of the business lobby.
Until politicians are prepared to apply the same laws to businessmen and company directors that they apply to teenage gangs, the carnage will continue, along with the feeling among many workers that there is no one in politics taking a stand on their behalf.
Because to argue that there should not be criminal sanctions for workplace deaths is to argue that workers are somehow worth less than other people. And that's an offensive argument, as offensive as $1800 for a life.
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