Australia Moving Swiftly Toward Harmonized OHS Act

Keep a close eye on www.nationalohsreview.gov.au/, because what is unfolding there is politically unthinkable for the United States: a fast-tracked process that will harmonize all of Australia's workplace safety regulations. Announced April 4 by Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Julia Gillard, the National Review into Model Occupational Health and Safety Laws is using a panel of three experts who have met twice and will present a progress report in May.

All states and territories have agreed to work with the Commonwealth to implement a model OHS act. The panel is now examining existing laws and consulting key stakeholders. Its final report is scheduled to go to the Workplace Relations Ministers' Council by the end of January 2009.

Harmonizing OHS laws across the various jurisdictions will cut red tape, boost business efficiency, and increase protections for all workplace parties, the government believes. The three panelists are Chairman Robin Stewart-Crompton, who was CEO of the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission in 2000-2004 and now works as an OHS consultant; Barry Noel Sherriff, a senior partner in the employee relations practice of Freehills, one of Australia's largest law firms; and Stephanie Mayman, a commissioner on the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission and chair of the Occupational Safety and Health Tribunal appointed under Western Australia's OHS legislation. Their first meeting took place April 15 in Melbourne.

"I am pleased to announce that our initial consultation with stakeholders will begin tomorrow and continue over the next six weeks," Stewart-Crompton said that day. "Barry Sherriff, Stephanie Mayman, and I will be visiting every state and territory to engage with a wide range of stakeholders who have agreed to contribute to this process. We anticipate meeting with business, governments, unions and other interested parties. A discussion paper will be developed after the initial consultation and issued at the end of May. The formal public consultation process inviting written submissions will run from June to July 2008. We strongly encourage all who are considering making a written submission to start thinking about the issues that they may wish to raise."

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