Mar 3, 2010

When dead workers weren’t quite so important

Thank goodness the press gallery is now focused on ministerial responsibility for workplace safety. It wasn't always that way.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

What a shame that the media has only recently discovered that people die in workplaces affected by Federal Government.  One can only wonder what might have been if we’d had similar levels of media confected fury in previous years.

Here’s an example.  The Howard Government’s response to the Cole Royal Commission into the building industry had been stymied by the Senate, but in September 2005 the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act, which tightly curtailed union activities and rights of workers to take industrial action in the construction sector, was passed by the Government’s new majority.  The Government also extended its National Code of Practice for the Construction Industry so that any firm wishing to tender for Commonwealth contracts had to apply the code across all their operations and to any sub-contractors they employed.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

19 thoughts on “When dead workers weren’t quite so important

  1. Jim Reiher

    Our current leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Health under Howard. There were numerous unnecessary deaths in hospitals during that time. Did he think he was responsible? Should he have resigned?

    I don’t like Garrett. I don’t like his environmental compromises. (Maybe he is hamstrung by the Labor party… maybe he is just a shallow hypocrite). But on this insulation issue? He has been made a scape goat in a ridiculous argument that Labor should NEVER have entertained.

    When have ministers ever accepted responsibility and resigned because of deaths down the ladder of their portfolios? Maybe they all should. Or all shouldn’t. But to say some should and others don’t? Please….

  2. SBH

    And who gave us the Cole Commission? that would be Tony Abbott, the bloke bellowing about industrial manslaughter.

  3. klewso

    Yes it does seem a recently noticed novelty to the media, and it’s during a Labor tenure of government too.
    Just how “recent” can be judged by running a time-line of events over the last 12 months on this “hot (taking “8(?)” months from tepid to boiling) issue”, and the last 6 weeks in particular.
    The first of “those deaths” didn’t rate much “media” notice, nor the second, third or fourth, for a few days anyway, and in that meantime between that poor kid’s death and when Abbott and co; did take up their “righteous cause”, about the only thing of note happening politically was Barnaby Joyce, “Alternate Finance Minister”, running around drawing flak and embarrassing questions about the “economic management skills” of the Coal-ition – for so long “a given” in much of their media PR machine, coupled with the added embarrrassment of the way the country had actually fared in the GFC under Rudd Labor – if his mob got in again!

  4. Keith is not my real name

    But what would you know Bernard? you’re just an ex Public Servant. You are NOT a journalist remember? and don’t forget that the fact you have never filed a news story = lack insight process. 😉

  5. Silver BB's

    Abbott was Minister for Health 2003 – 2007 under which an ‘area for need’ program bought us this warning in 2004 :

    Hiring foreign doctors a worrying proposition, study finds
    By Mark Metherell, Political Correspondent
    October 4, 2004
    “The Federal Government’s “Strengthening Medicare” scheme to recruit foreign doctors may be weakening Australia’s medical standards, according to new research.”

    And through this program we got someone by the name of Jayant Patel, where Abbott managed to avoid scrutiny for a Federal program his department was responsible for.
    “Overall, Patel is linked to at least 87 deaths out of the 1,202 patients he treated between 2003 to early 2005, 30 of whom died while under his care in Bundaberg.”

    Well done to Australia’s media for a fair and balanced witch hunt politically motivated by News Corp. There is a pattern with this outfit :
    Van Jones, the US environment minister responsible for similar efficiency initiatives was smeared and vilified over trumped up and subsequently withdrawn charges by Fox News in September of 2009 which led to his resignation.

  6. Tom McLoughlin

    Delivery work driving down George St mid morning Sydney CBD. Must have been about 2007. Behind wire gate and wood panel facade an industrial bin was being lowered to ground from a serious height on heavy wire lines, in a confined sort of work site. It had metal scaffolding poles in it. The bin somehow started spining around maybe once every 2 seconds or so, too fast. A worker was standing mere feet from it’s trajectory – presumably to settle it when it landed. Only it landed with a thump and a skid and the scaffolding rods rattled around.

    I kept on driving, shaking my head. Not that queasy. Done a bit of mountaineering. Trekking up Kokoda on my own and stuff. To me that situation looked way dangerous and avoidable.

    Another time, driving down Bellevue Hill, with scaffolding 4 levels high on a residential flat building renovation. Strong fit tradesman/builder is swinging level 3 to 4 with bare hands, no harness, like on a monkey bar. That’s what’s known as easy grade but high exposure 80 feet over concrete in climbing parlance. Where was the harness, steps, rail, anything? It might be easy start of day. What about some moisture gets on the rail. Tired at end of session? Dangerous? Ought to be a law about it. Drive on shaking my head.

  7. Cuppa

    We will never know how many people lost pay, conditions, even their jobs under the Coalition’s SerfChoices, and how many of them took their own lives out of desperation.

    The Coalition and their cheerleaders should hang their heads in shame.

    Good article, Bernard. Your work is a refreshing breeze of difference to the dumbed-down groupthink drivel of the mainstream media.

  8. Kristian Karamfiles

    Hi Bernard. Love your writing. Seriously.

    However, when did “confected” become your word-of-the-week? I lost count, in Monday’s piece on Rudd’s self-flagellation and it popped up again today.

    What were you reading on the weekend?

  9. Vincent Matthews

    Why didn’t Rudd, Garrett, Combet and others in government and Labor and unions point out this distortion and deceit in the outburst of Abbott and Team? Why was Abbott pantomime allowed to run full time by media and pollies without being demolished by Bernard’s evidence freely available?

  10. michael crook

    Good article Bernard. I became radicalised to the left by spending 30 years in the construction and mining industry and seeing the complete absence of any interest in construction safety from employers in that time. I started as an administrator, then became a labourer (more money) and gradually worked myself up to project management roles on major construction projects, mainly mining and process plants.
    The point I would like to make though, is that it is the states that have been responsible for the regulation and enforcement of construction safety, not the feds. The states have never taken this role seriously and it is just as bad under Labor, especially in Queensland, as it ever was under the conservatives. This is why the role of visiting union organisers was so important for safety and why when those visits were stopped the accident and fatality rates increased. Ideologies can and do kill.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details