Question Time - Victorian WorkCover Authority



Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:00): My question is to the Minister for Workplace Safety. In September 2020 the Victorian WorkCover Authority was requested by SelfEmployed Australia, pursuant to section 131 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, to investigate failures in the Victorian government hotel quarantine program. What briefings have you received about that request?


Ms STITT(Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:00): Thank you for your question. As I have indicated a number of times in the chamber to similar questions over a number of months now, matters relating to hotel quarantine are the responsibility of the Minister for Police. The member also knows that decisions regarding WorkSafe enforcement and compliance are at arm’s length from me and my office. I am not briefed on any of the details of the investigations that are currently underway. I am obviously aware that there are some investigations on foot—I know that through information provided to the Public Accounts and Estimates Committee and through media reports—but I am not briefed on the details of those investigations. That would be inappropriate. Those investigations are at arm’s length from me and my office.


Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:02):I thank the minister for her response. The minister in her answer said that she is not briefed on any details of the investigation underway, and she also said that that would be inappropriate. Yet section 131(2B) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act requires the Victorian WorkCover Authority to report to the minister every three months on an investigation when it extends beyond three months. This investigation has been ongoing for more than nine months, so the minister, if her department is following the act, should have received at least two briefings on it. So the minister has now either misled the house or the VWA is breaching the act. Which is it?


Ms STITT(Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:02): Thank you for your supplementary question. I can assure you that I am not misleading the house. Periodically under the act WorkSafe is required to advise of any investigations, under section 131 of the act. That is literally a list of investigations on foot with no details provided. I have never sought any briefings on any of the details of any of those investigations, because it would be completely inappropriate for me to do so.


Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:12): My question is again to the Minister for Workplace Safety. Following the failure of the Victorian WorkCover Authority (VWA) to complete the investigation that was requested by Self-Employed Australia, a request was made pursuant to section 131(3) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 to refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions. In a letter of 4 August Kerri Judd, QC, the DPP, wrote: The matter remains under investigation by WorkSafe Victoria. I cannot make a determination in this matter until I have viewed the investigative materials. Why has the VWA failed to provide investigatory documents to the DPP as required by the OH&S act?


Ms STITT(Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:12): As I have indicated in my previous answer, I do not involve myself in investigations that are on foot by the safety regulator. That would be entirely inappropriate. There are provisions under section 131 of the act, as you have outlined, which require WorkSafe to meet certain reporting obligations during the course of an investigation if it goes on for a period of time. But I am not aware of the contents of the letter from the person that you mentioned. All that I am aware of is that there are a number of investigations on foot that relate to hotel quarantine. I am not briefed on the details of those investigations, and nor would I seek to be so because that would be inappropriate. It is very important, and a principle that I think ought to be upheld, that the safety regulator conducts its investigations free from any political interference from any government minister or MP.


Mr RICH-PHILLIPS (South Eastern Metropolitan) (11:14):I thank the minister for her response. No-one is asking the minister to intervene in an investigation, but the letter that I quoted is not a letter from Joe Smith, it is a letter from Kerri Judd, QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions, who is entitled to receive the documents in relation to this investigation under the OH&S act. Minister, as the responsible minister, it is your role to ensure that the Victorian WorkCover Authority complies with the OH&S act. What action are you taking as minister to ensure it does that?


Ms STITT(Western Metropolitan—Minister for Workplace Safety, Minister for Early Childhood) (11:14): I have already answered the question on a number of occasions, and the answer remains that investigations are at arm’s length from my office, and that is entirely appropriate.