There has been a lot of pussy-footing around the deaths of four workers involved in the Insulation part of the stimulus package. Three have tragically died as a result of electrical shocks and one from heat stroke. Whether they were working for licensed or otherwise reputable home insulation firm or were employed by 'shonks' (fly-by-night carpetbagger operators in for a quick killing) is unknown and, apparently, immaterial. Peter Garrett is guilty of something - Tony Abbott today said the specific crime is 'industrial manslaughter' - and must resign. Or so the media meme goes. Apparently Garrett is 'fighting for his political life', despite contraindications of this from his boss, Kevin Rudd, because the political journalists say he is. And when the opinionistas go to the trouble to say Garrett is potentially fatally wounded, then that in itself is proof of the severity of his wounds. These people do not exaggerate lightly.
Elsewhere in Queensland, a sparrow farted in the morning. This caused a dog to bark, which in turn caused a cat to run up a tree. A small branch of the tree came off and caused a boy on his bike to swerve. The boy was run over by a car driven by a woman who worked for an insulation company. For this too, Peter Garrett is guilty and should resign. Ridiculous? Yes, about as ridiculous as Abbott’s gross assertion that Garrett would have been guilty of 'industrial manslaughter' in NSW, if the incident had occurred in that state and if he had been a company director employing the deceased installers (false in both cases, by the way).
Tony Abbott, in his new-found career as Judge, Jury and Executioner in the Industrial Court (who knew?) has spoken. We have no body of relevant evidence, nor even an outline of the broad circumstances of the fatal incidents, but take 'Straight Talkin’ Tony’s word for it: Garrett is guilty. In Parliament today Tony shrilled, 'Mr. Speaker, this is about death.'
Tony should know. When he was Industrial Relations Minister, in 2002, Abbott had this to say about proposed 'industrial manslaughter' laws in Victoria and Queensland. In an address to the Queensland Industrial Relations Society, titled In Praise Of Bosses (and the jobs they bring), he said this:
"There are three essential problems with industrial manslaughter legislation as proposed: first, it treats workers like children by failing to recognise that workplace safety is a shared responsibility between employers and employees; second, it shifts the workplace safety emphasis from prevention to punishment; and third, it introduces a new type of vicarious liability into the criminal law...
"The 'industrial manslaughter' mindset casts the employer as habitual villain. As a society, we need to demonstrate our abhorrence of slip-shod safety procedures and industrial short-cuts but we should also beware of the tendency to be wise after the event and seek scapegoats rather than solutions. One workplace commentator likens industrial manslaughter to convicting passengers of culpable driving. It’s not inconceivable, say employer groups, if a drunken fork-lift driver seriously injured fellow employees, that the boss could be guilty of a criminal offence while the company could not sack the worker at fault.” Link.
We can see why Tony singled out NSW (and not Queensland) for the scene of Garrett’s alleged crime. When he was Minister, as we can see from the above link, Tony specifically told those in Queensland responsible for Industrial Relations in that state that he thought an industrial manslaughter law was a non-starter.
Elsewhere, in September 2003, Abbott opined: "Legislation as draconian as industrial manslaughter legislation is much more likely to produce an epidemic of buck passing." Link.
.... except where there’s a chance to pass the buck onto Peter Garrett, and then our 'Straight Talkin’ Messiah is all ears. Being 'wise after the event' is suddenly all the rage again.
Perhaps Tony has seen the light? Perhaps he is now as accepting of the reality of industrial manslaughter as a workplace crime as he was of the 'political reality' of ETS legislation? In the Straight Talker’s case, you never know.
It seems Abbott’s attitude to treating workers 'like children', the shift of workplace safety from 'prevention to punishment' and the onerous burden of a new vicarious liability upon bosses (who bring us all those jobs) has changed. His newfound admiration for strict industrial laws couldn’t be hypocrisy, because, with Tony Abbott, you always know where he stands. He is merely a conviction politician who seems to have changed his convictions, or as Tony would put it 'his considered opinion' is different today to what it was then.
Could I interpose the word 'crap' at this point?
The only problem with Tony’s analysis is that Peter Garrett was neither the employer nor the regulator in any of these cases, but why let that get in the way of a good headline? Presumably, in some future Straight Talkin’ World of Tony Abbott as PM (hold on to your stomachs) any federal government minister will be liable to be charged with a felony crime, involving imprisonment of up to 25 years, if a worker in any government-funded scheme, no matter how far divorced from the minister’s actual control, dies in the course of their employment.
No doubt, intrepid journalists will do the same small amount of Googling that I did prior to writing this article in researching their own grave pieces (10 minutes' worth), and they will resolve the apparent hypocrisy of the Straight Talker’s position for We Of The Mob. Those off-the-cuff comments of Tony Abbott's will be exposed for the self-serving hypocrisy they are. Perhaps our opinion leaders should start out by delving into the history of Health in recent years, especially when Tony Abbott was Minister, to see whether anyone died as a result of the pullback of funds that occurred under his watch. Or maybe there might be some Iraqi citizen, missing loved ones killed by Australian bullets in a vain pursuit of 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' who have a beef with the government of which Abbott was a senior member. SIEV-X anyone?
Tony, when even a mere sparrow farts in Queensland, you never can tell how long and how far the smell will waft and linger on.