Not often does reading parliamentary Hansard stop you in your tracks. In fact not often is what’s said in parliament worth reading at all but occasionally a politician with integrity and honesty and real life experience gets to their feet and tells it as it is, without the cheap politics or the predictable parroting of party lines.
Two weeks ago Ian Blayney the long serving Member for Geraldton, a respected quietly spoken man got to his feet and took the politics out of Industrial manslaughter by telling his personal story of farm accidents and death, including that of his own father. It’s is compelling it deserves to be printed in full.
His brushes with death are personal and heartfelt but unlike his colleges in the National Party, or the ALP or the Greens who all supported the governments new draconian Industrial Manslaughter penalties of jail and massive fines, Ian is instead calling for a new approach.
An approach based on research and investigation and engagement starting with the establishment of a new Farm Safety Institution. His comments caught the attention of another respected MP from the other side of the chamber the Treasurer Ben Wyatt
WAFarmers endorses this thinking. In fact we have been for months calling for a new approach to farm safety one that would see an amount similar to the $12m the government recently committed to employing 24 new inspectors to be spent on new Farm Safety organisation that will help change the culture rather than go after farmers after a death with the threats of jail and massive penalties.
Western Australia Legislative Assembly Handsard – 14 October 2020
MR I.C. BLAYNEY (Geraldton) [7.45 pm]
The final issue I wanted to talk about briefly at the end of my speech, and is related to the budget, is on the subject of industrial manslaughter. I acknowledge and offer my sympathies to the family of Jonnie Hartshorn, who was the young man who was killed at Curtin University yesterday, which is an absolute tragedy. I sat and I wrote down the number of people who I have known who have been killed in the agricultural industry during my time as a farmer. I have also had family who have been killed in the industry. It started with my grandfather’s stepbrother, who was drowned in the Greenough River on our property. My great-great-grandfather was killed when he was thrown from a horse. A son of an employee was killed on a farm—not on our farm—building a jump for a motorbike. He landed, broke his neck and was killed. A farmer named McCartney from the Chapman Valley was killed in a car accident while driving between farms. Another farmer I knew was killed when his ute rolled on his farm at Mingenew. A young farmer called Barry Longhurst was killed when a harvester that he was working on fell on him. A young bloke I knew, who was working at the Walkaway Tavern, ran off the road, hit the Allanooka–Geraldton pipeline and was killed. Another young farmer ran off Walkaway Road and was killed when his ute rolled. An aerial crop sprayer, whose son was a friend of one of my sons, was killed at work, and my father was killed on my farm. I know two farmers who have each lost a leg in a post hole borer and two farmers who have each lost an arm.
This is a difficult subject for me to talk about, but I do not agree with the industrial manslaughter legislation as it applies to family businesses. It was interesting when the occupational safety and health people came to my farm the next morning after my father was killed. They asked me a couple of questions. Who was he working for? I said he was self-employed. Who owned the tractor? He owned the tractor. Whose farm is this? His farm. They said there was really nothing here for them and they would try to work out what happened and write a report to the coroner, but as far as any prosecution or anything was concerned that would not happen because there was, if you like, no guilty party. But this is going to be an issue for family-owned farms, fishing operations, building companies. For any family operation, this is going to be a very, very difficult issue.
The other day someone pointed out to me that if a person is in a family company such as a husband and wife team are both directors of that company and one of them is killed on that company, be it whatever it is, the other one could be found guilty, face a massive fine, which would bankrupt them, and then probably go to jail. If someone was facing that situation on top of having to deal with the loss of their husband, wife, son or whoever it might be, that would not help to them to deal with their grief.
I will just make a prediction that an immediate increase in the suicide rate will flow on from that.
As always, I have tried to find a positive thing to put on the table. The University of Sydney’s faculty of medicine and health has a section called AgHealth Australia, which investigates incidents that occur on farms. It is located in Dubbo, New South Wales. I suggest that we look at establishing a sub-unit of that unit of the University of Sydney. It would not have to have any connection with a university in Western Australia; it could be run here quite happily. The Geraldton Universities Centre courses all come from east coast universities and that works fine. I suggest that this sub-unit should also be based in Northam to proactively address the issue of farm safety, because I do not think the government will address it by simply bankrupting people and sending them to jail. People have made the point that they are waiting for the first time that this will happen. They know it is going to happen and it is not going to be very easy to deal with.
Mr B.S. Wyatt: Member, how do you see that would work? I am not familiar with the east coast unit. Would it provide courses in safety? Could you just explain it a bit?
Mr I.C. BLAYNEY: The first thing that it does is that it studies accidents. That is where most of the data on this issue comes from. For instance, I was reading a publication the other day about the number of people who are lost in tractor accidents, four-wheeled motorbike accidents and accidents involving trees. They are the big three–four-wheeled motorbikes, tractors and trees. The unit studies all the statistics and what causes the accidents. There is also a section that provides education to hopefully reduce the incidence of all these things by making people more aware of the dangers and how they can be addressed. People talk about how mining has effectively addressed safety issues. Mining still has the odd accident, but companies like BHP, Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals Group are so profitable that it is unbelievable. Other industries cannot afford to do the things that they can do.
Mr B.S. Wyatt: In the case of family farms, absolutely.
Mr I.C. BLAYNEY: We have to find a way to address it, but I do not think we are going to address it with these massive penalties. In fact, I think it will just cause more trouble than it will solve. There are all kinds of issues with that. Obviously, I have had a bit to do in talking to the building industry about it, and that industry is quite concerned about it. A lot of building companies are quite small family-owned operations. I think it is just going to cause massive problems. I am not someone who is in favour of industrial accidents—I know what it is like to deal with one—but I do not think this is the way to go about preventing them.
WAFARMERS ELECTION POLICY PLATFORM.
No 3 FARM SAFETY
WAFarmers is calling for changes to the state governments punitive approach to Industrial Safety on farms to focus less on penalties and more on cultural change.
$3.5m to be committed to match the federal governments support for farm safety programs.