Melbourne Talk Radio Drive Show
with Luke Grant
17 January 2012
E & OE
The Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield, has said today that Labor’s new OH&S laws have turned volunteers into workers, effectively destroying the tradition of Australian volunteerism as we know it. The Shadow Minister is on the line. Afternoon Senator.
Appreciate your time very much indeed. So what’s the lowdown here? How have they killed volunteerism?
In a nutshell, the worthy aim of introducing a national occupational health and safety arrangement has become an assault on volunteers. So what they’ve done is volunteers in sports clubs, meals on wheels, scout groups, surf lifesaving clubs have been reclassified as workers. And churches and scout halls and beaches and forests have been redefined as workplaces. So they’ve now got volunteers essentially having the sort of occupational health and safety responsibilities that you would if you were an executive in a large corporation.
So when it comes to, for example, the floods in Queensland last year people just turned up with a mop and a bucket and an attitude to get some work done would those numbers now not be realised? Because of the risks to volunteers in relation to, I guess, the laws they have to abide by? And I guess there are insurance ramifications as well?
The real danger with these new regulations is that volunteers will think that it all sounds too hard. Because you potentially have fines for volunteers of up to $300,000, and five years in jail potentially, if you breach some of the occupation health and safety requirements. I’ll just give you an example one of the responsibilities is that every time there is a potential hazard, a risk assessment has to be done by the volunteer. It might be a scout master. So whenever a group of scouts is going to a canoe trip or a bush camp or a jamboree, the scout master would have to do a risk assessment. And woe betide the scout master if anything went wrong. He’s potentially up for hundreds of thousands of dollars in a fine, or potentially prison time. It’s a little strange.
That’s ridiculous! Wasn’t last year the year of volunteers or something?
That’s right and the Government waited very carefully until the end of the year of volunteers before lobbing this onto them.
So how does this impact, I understand the example of the scout master, but for example meals on wheel. If I was a volunteer, I wouldn’t, knowing this, necessarily not want to continue to volunteer. So who does it impact upon?
It impacts on the volunteers in the organisation, because every volunteer is now deemed to be a worker. So a volunteer – now deemed a worker might have to do a risk assessment on the risks involved in taking a meal to someone’s house. You’d think that the risks are pretty low, but the problem with this sort of legislation, which is much more geared to large corporates, is you just don’t know where it would end.
So, if they spilled some hot soup on their leg and burnt themselves?
That’s right, and what we’re saying is that there should be a twelve month hold on the implementation on these new occupational health and safety rules to allow businesses to get their heads around them, but also to check to see what some of the unintended consequences are. We’re talking about 600 pages of legislation and 800 pages of regulations. People need a chance to get their heads around it. One thing that we’ll certainly be doing is having the Coalition’s red tape reduction taskforce take a very close look at how this applies to volunteers.
Very good. Mitch, always good to talk to you mate. Thank you so much. That’s the Shadow Minister for Disabilities, Carers and the Voluntary Sector, Senator Mitch Fifield on MTR.