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Workplace Safety and Consumer Affairs – Protests on Work Sites

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Monday, 6 June 2022

Tags: WorkSafe, Anti-Protest Laws, Protest

Ms O'CONNOR - Since 2014, how many incidents have been reported to Worksafe where protests on work sites have caused injury to workers or protestors?

Ms ARCHER - Can we answer that or on notice? Ms Pearce is going to answer that.

Ms PEARCE - There have been no injuries reported or workers' compensation claims in relation to injuries to workers or protestors on forest protest sites or any protest sites.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you very much, that's what we thought. As you are aware Attorney-General, there is legislation being put through this place with Labor's support that purports to be about protecting workers on work sites but in the past eight years there have been zero incidents of protesters causing injury to workers or of protesters being injured on work sites.

Do you agree the premise of the police offences amendments is flawed, is false in fact, in the context of workers safety on worksites as a result of peaceful protests?

Ms ARCHER - In this portfolio, all I can comment on is the statistic that Ms Pearce has provided. I am not going to speculate on the police offences act which is not under my administrative arrangements, nor do I have the same intimate knowledge that may have been put by members on that bill when they spoke to it, not having carriage of it.

Ms O'CONNOR - As the minister responsible for workplace safety, if there were incidents where it was an issue that peaceful protesters were causing injury or unsafety to workers then you would know about it as a workplace safety issue?

Ms ARCHER - I think we also need to think about people's mental health and wellbeing. And I do know of an incident where there was some protest action internally in an office of Sustainable Timber Tasmania and it caused great distress to some workers. Now there may not have been a statistic that resulted from that, but I know that anecdotally was very disturbing to some people and some workers.

I don't think it's true to say that because there has been no reporting of incidents that there have been no incidents where there has been some impact to people's health and safety at work. Given that we now recognise psychological injury and mental health and wellbeing as well as an injury in the workplace. It may not be reported but there can be some impact as a result of any incident in a workplace whether it’s a protest or not.

Ms O'CONNOR - Just to acknowledge that but also remind the committee and remind you that rates of anxiety and depression amongst young people who are worried about the climate are at an all-time high. So, if you want to talk about psychological injury, the way young people feel right now is psychologically injured because governments are clear-felling their carbon stores.

Do you have any line of sight on whether there been any prosecutions resulting in convictions involving protesters as a result of any workplace safety incidents since 2014? I'm presuming if there's been zero reports, there's been zero prosecutions.

Ms ARCHER - I have to again ask Ms Pearce on that one.

Ms PEARCE - If I could preface this by saying that under work health and safety legislation it's just not just an actual injury that might lead to a breach of a duty. It's also where there may not be an injury but there was a risk of an injury because we have risk-based legislation. Having said that, there haven't been any prosecutions in relation to -.

Ms ARCHER - But you don't need an injury, is that what you're saying?

Ms PEARCE - Correct.

Ms O'CONNOR - Can I ask a final question just on that line of questioning? I have been quite well-behaved.

CHAIR - You have but there will be plenty more opportunities. We have an hour and a half.

Ms O'CONNOR - I'm not sure that there will.

Ms ARCHER - I am happy to take it, chair, if that helps.

Ms O'CONNOR - Then I can stop this line of questioning.

Ms ARCHER - That is why I am happy to take it.

Ms O'CONNOR - Do you have any line of sight, how many prosecutions since 2014 resulting in convictions there have been involving timber industry workers causing injury to protesters?

Ms ARCHER - Again, that’s one for Ms Pearce. I'm not sure if she's going to be able to go back that far. It may well be a question on notice that one.

Ms PEARCE - I'll have to take that on notice.