Dr WOODRUFF - A serious safety improvement notice was issued by WorkSafe Tasmania on 18 February this year for the magistrates courts in Tasmania. Safety issues raised in that notice include the risk of physical injury and assault, and the entry of dangerous and prohibited objects to the court. The sorts of dangerous and prohibited objects that people are trying to avoid with security screens are things like guns and knives. These risks were attributed to the lack of appropriate security screening.
The newly appointed executive director, Ms Pearce, cancelled this notice on 7 July 2020 for administrative reasons. Is WorkSafe Tasmania now providing cover for the Department of Justice?
Ms ARCHER - WorkSafe operates independently. What I will do is ask Ms Pearce to explain that notice, because she was acting in her role as independent regulator and it would be appropriate for her to address that.
Ms PEARCE - From my perspective, the issues with that notice were not administrative. The issues were such that the notice was fundamentally flawed. The status of the notice was queried with me by the department in May 2020. The Police Association similarly queried the status of the notice with me in late June 2020. Any regulatory action that is taken under the Work Health and Safety Act must be compliant with the requirements of the act to be valid at law.
In particular, the contents of an improvement notice must meet the requirements of section 192 of the act. The improvement notice that was issued by the former regulator cited 11 sections of the act and seven regulations that are being or have been contravened. The act requires that an improvement notice is actually issued for each provision the inspector reasonably believes is being contravened. A single improvement notice needs to be issued for a single contravention of a provision.
Dr WOODRUFF - You said there were 11 sections that were noted, and -
Ms PEARCE - Seven regulations, 11 sections of the act - quite vastly different sections -and seven regulations that were quoted. The act also requires that for each provision that is being contravened, a description of how that provision is being contravened has to be specified within the notice. For multiple contraventions, there was no description of how the notice was being contravened.
Where the notice gives a direction on what action is to take place, it also wasn't clear which direction related to which contravention, to have that clarity about the action that needed to be taken.
Once I had considered the notice and formed the view that it didn't meet the requirements of section 192 of the act, I had no choice but to cancel it. I cannot leave an invalid notice in operation, sending a perception that it is valid. If I form the view that it is not valid, I cancel it. I cancelled it in accordance with section 207 of the act.
Recognising that there appeared to be genuine safety concerns that were held by the Police Association, and that we had correspondence of, I assigned inspectors to undertake an investigation into the court security, so that we could gather the evidence necessary to form the view on whether or not the person conducting the business or undertaking is actually meeting its work health and safety obligations. The investigation is currently on foot.
Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you very much for that detailed explanation because on the face of it, it sounded wrong, but I can see that you have been more than thorough.
It may prove to be fundamentally about funding for appropriate screening but that has not been determined yet is where you are up to.
I think the bottom line is; is it safe for court staff police and attendees in court today?
Ms PEARCE - That is the subject of the investigation.
Dr WOODRUFF - So we do not know yet. How long will it take for that investigation?
Ms PEARCE - Inspections are currently underway. They will be completed in the first week in December. They should be completed by that point in time at which point we will assess the information in order to determine whether further inspections need to be undertaken and whether there is further information we need to obtain, including talking with the Police Association about its particular concerns as well.
Inspectors will make decisions about whether directions need to be given in order to make the workplace safe and what the form of those directions should be, but right now I could not say whether it is safe or not safe. There have been no notices or particular issues.
Ms ARCHER - On that particular issue I think the department should give them an opportunity because it is the department's role to liaise with the court. Obviously, there is an independence between Government and the courts but we certainly take an interest in these matters. I think Ms Webster has something to add.
Ms WEBSTER - Thanks. In relation to the court, as the minister said, the security of the court is a matter for the Chief Magistrate in the Magistrates Court and the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court in terms of what occurs in the court.
However, I have liaised with the Chief Magistrate. I have spoken to the Registrar of the Supreme Court and I do that on a regular basis around what is occurring. The Magistrates Court,, also the Administrative Courts and senior staff in the department, have met with senior police and the senior police have identified no significant concerns around security and safety issues.
Dr WOODRUFF - And the Police Association has also identified no security concerns?
Ms WEBSTER - No, no the police
Dr WOODRUFF - They are on record for being concerned.
Ms WEBSTER - Yes, but the department met with police.
Dr WOODRUFF - Senior police, so not the police who are actually in the courts doing the work?
Ms WEBSTER- Senior police. They are in touch with the police in the court doing the work.
We wanted to make sure that we met with the police service to do that and safety in the courts is a matter for the Chief Magistrate and the Chief Justice, but we do support them in relation to safety within the courts.
Ms ARCHER - Ultimately, the whole issue of security and anything to do with the administration of the courts is the responsibility of the respective chiefs of each court.
Dr WOODRUFF - If there is any funding required to fill a gap identified in WorkSafe work is that something you would prioritise?
Ms ARCHER - That is the role of government - to provide support.