HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [9.54 pm]: I rise because I want to talk about an issue that I am feeling pretty angry about at the moment. I have been talking about the need for improved laws around issues of worker safety since I first entered Parliament 10 years ago. It is an issue that is very close to my heart. I first became very passionate about this after years of working in the union movement and having to work with people grieving the loss of loved ones who had died at work or people who had been terribly injured at work. For a long time, I have recognised that we need to have improved laws, but never has this felt more important to me than last week when I saw a disgraceful penalty determined by the courts over the death of teenager Wes Ballantine. I have been working with his mother, who I was very privileged to meet some time ago. She has worked tirelessly to try to improve laws around worker safety and to get some sort of justice for her son. For those people who do not remember, Wes Ballantine was a 17-year-old boy who was working at height on the H&M redevelopment in Perth. I have seen photos of where he was killed and it was a disgrace. There were no harnesses and there was no scaffolding in place. He fell 12 metres to his death. He died instantly.
Wes was Regan’s only child, and that day she lost not only her son, but also her entire life. I cannot begin to convey the impact that this has had on her life. She has nevertheless attempted to pursue justice ever since. It took a very long time—far too long—for WorkSafe to finally bring about charges, although I recognise that certainly in the months immediately preceding the charges finally being laid, real effort was made to try to ensure that Regan was kept in the loop and was aware of what was going on, but that happened after a lot of pressure being brought to bear, particularly by her.
It is with disgust that we found that, after one of the parties pleaded guilty and was subject to penalty last week, for acknowledging that he had created an unsafe worksite where he knew a worker could die, he ended up being penalised $38 000—$38 000 for the death of a 17-year-old! I will refer to the statement of material facts, which noted that the Valmont representative on the night shift was from a labour hire company and had no experience in managing sites. Wesley and his employer were seen by the Valmont site supervisor not wearing harnesses and were asked to put them on but had no anchor points that they could hook onto, and Valmont was aware of an obvious and fatal risk on the site from 18 December—three weeks before Wesley died. We are talking about profound negligence, but section 19 of the legislation that was in place when he died does not allow for a negligence charge against anyone other than the direct employer. It really highlights why we are in desperate need of reform. Only recently we passed amendments to increase the range of penalties that are available, and that is good. They received unanimous support in this chamber, but it was too late for Wesley. It goes some way to showing exactly why we needed to do something about the penalties. It does not give any possible justification for an 80 per cent discount on the maximum penalty available even then. He died. There was gross negligence. I ask: what are the circumstances in which the maximum penalty can possibly be given? We know that a small discount will always be given to people who plead guilty and we have good policy reasons for doing that because we are trying to stop people from having to go through the trauma of the courts—but not an 80 per cent discount. A serious injustice has been committed here.
Newspaper reports indicate that our industrial relations minister, Bill Johnston, is also appalled by this outcome and is considering seeing whether there is a possibility to appeal. I say absolutely; please do that. Please do everything that you can. I think this sends a diabolical message to those employers who choose to put profit above the safety and lives of their workers. An amount of $38 000 does not even touch the sides when we look at the sort of investment that should have happened at that site to make sure that there was appropriate scaffolding and hooks, and people were wearing their harnesses, and that there was a culture at that site that ensured people would be safe, not die. This is not over for Regan. She still has to go through and witness three more court cases following the death of her son. The matter is back in court on 5 September. We are talking about an 18-month trial process and then following that, a coronial inquest, which will take potentially another two years, possibly longer. Maybe there will be an opportunity to prosecute under the Criminal Code following that, but it is very, very unlikely because the laws are so hopelessly inadequate.
In terms of an entitlement to compensation for Regan as a non-dependent party—of course, she was non-dependent because he was a dependent child—she was eligible for only $9 400, which did not even cover the cost of the funeral. WorkSafe is seeking its costs, which it should. That is $8 400, but there is nothing for Regan. This is not because she wants money. My goodness! We could present that woman with $10 billion and say, “Do you want this or to have your son back?” and she would have her son back in a heartbeat. This is about the message that we are sending to negligent employers who kill their workers about how seriously we take the penalties against them. This is also about the message that we send to those people who are left with shattered lives to pick up the pieces and to say we are just so sorry. We are so sorry. We are beyond sorry that this has ever happened to you and this is some recognition of what you have been left to go through. But there is nothing. There is just no justice to this.
I think this case, probably more than many cases that I have seen before, really demonstrates why we need some form of industrial manslaughter laws. I have a bill in this place, but that is only one part. This government could be contemplating industrial manslaughter in other forms. Who knows? I am going to say that when decisions are made by people in power to create work environments in which people’s lives are at risk and someone subsequently dies, we need to make people culpable. We cannot have it as part of a business plan to bypass all safety proceedings.
I want to say how angry I am at this outcome. We were devastated when we found out that it was such a low penalty. It defies belief. I want to say to Regan that I am so, so sorry. I am so sorry that the system has failed you. I am really, really sorry to Wes. I am so sorry. You have been catastrophically failed as well. This illustrates more than ever why we need law reform in this space. Regan is an incredible woman. She is dignified and she is powerful, but her life has been shattered and really that could be any one of us and people whom we love in our lives. I want people to really think about that. It is really up to us to make sure that we do something about it.