Workplace minister Craig Laundy spent exactly 12 seconds during Question Time on Tuesday addressing how the government has improved safety in the Work for the Dole program, as the two-year anniversary of a teenager's death on a Queensland site approaches.
Josh Park-Fing, 18, died from head injuries sustained when he fell from a flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor in April 2016. It's suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall.
At the time he was completing a Work for the Dole program at the Toowoomba Showgrounds arranged by employment contractor NEATO and earning $218.75 per week.
Last year, Ian Park showed BuzzFeed News the last text message exchange he had with his son, hours before Park-Fing's death, which Ian says show the teenager was injured, yet made to continue working on the program.
Forensic teams from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland investigated the incident but have yet to complete its final report. The Department of Employment provided an internal report to employment minister Michaelia Cash in September 2016.
Cash told Senate Estimates last year that the report had been given to NEATO and workplace safety practices had been updated to ensure the protection of young people taking part in the program.
Twenty-two months on, the government is still refusing to release the report into Park-Fing's death, or say what safety improvements have been made to prevent further injuries.
During Question Time on Tuesday, Laundy refused to answer questions from Labor's Ed Husic about why the government won't publicly release the steps they have taken to increase safety on the program.
Instead, Laundy spent 12 seconds acknowledged that any workplace death was a tragedy, before spending the next 2 minutes and 19 seconds spruiking the Turnbull government's jobs and growth programs.
Here's what Laundy said:
Obviously, any workplace tragedy is one workplace tragedy too many. And I think that would be a consistent view right across the house.
The Work for the Dole scheme which was reintroduced upon the election of us in the 2013 election campaign, it is a centrepiece component of the philosophy that we have on this side of the house. The best form of welfare is a job.
We've had a raft of policies that are consistent with that theme.
The most recent that I spoke about in this chamber is the Youth Jobs PaTH program. The results of that are fast approaching, fast approaching its first anniversary are nearly 70% of the people involved in the internship program have achieved employment.
When it comes to the youth program, the result is somewhere around 63%.
At this point Husic interrupted and asked the minister to directly answer his question about safety improvements.
Laundy, who before entering politics ran his family's million-dollar hotel company, then continued:
I can assure the member for Chifley I take workplace safety extremely seriously.
I have, as I have stated many times, 23 years pre-politics implementing work health and safe procedures and practices which all employers, irrespective of whether in the public or private sector should do.
As I was in the process of explaining, these procedures and policies should always be taken seriously by all workplaces.
We have, as I said, on this side of the house, implemented policies and those interject opposite - I know you don't like them. Because I have read many, many of your quotes.
But the results of these policies are serious economic and employment results.
Yes, yes, the onus on every employer in this country under the work, health, and safety act, above all other acts in this country, is the safety of their employees. And they should at all times have this front and centre of mind as they formulate their own policies and procedures under that act, train their staff and implement them for it.
The Australian Unemployed Workers' Union (AUWU) says Work for the Dole injuries have increased five-fold under the Coalition's "jobactive" system.
In 2015-2016 there were 500 injuries sustained, out of 106,000 participants in the Work for the Dole programs, including the death of Park-Fing.
Of all complaints made to the AUWU national safety hotline, 30% were to report safety issues on Work for the Dole sites.
According to a government-commissioned report by Ernst and Young, 64% of Work for the Dole risk assessments in 2016 failed to fully comply with standard workplace health and safety procedures.
The study found instances in which participants working near or on water were given no control to manage hazards, and workers weren't given adequate safety equipment in jobs which involved disturbing asbestos.
Husic has refused to guarantee the controversial Work for the Dole employment program would survive under a Labor government, saying the program has continued to fail unemployed young people.
Alice Workman is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Canberra.
Contact Alice Workman at email@example.com.
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