A Company Has Been Fined $90,000 After A Teenager Died On Its Work For The Dole Site
Joshua Park-Fing was 18 when he died from critical head injuries after falling from a trailer at Toowoomba Showgrounds.
Employment contractor NEATO has been fined $90,000 after a teenager died on a Queensland Work for the Dole site more than two and a half years ago.
Joshua Park-Fing, 18, died from critical head injuries after he fell from a flatbed trailer being towed by a tractor at the Toowoomba Showgrounds in April 2016. It's suspected the tractor slipped a gear and jolted, causing the teen to fall.
At the time of his death Park-Fing was earning $218.75 per week on the federal government-sponsored Work for the Dole program.
NEATO Employment Services Pty Ltd pleaded guilty to an amended complaint filed by the Queensland Office of Industrial Relations (QOIR) that it failed to comply with a health and safety duty (category three).
On Thursday in Toowoomba Magistrates Court, Magistrate Viviana Keegan fined the North Queensland based company $90,000. The maximum penalty for the offence is $500,000, but the QOIR submitted it would not be seeking a fine of more than $120,000.
No conviction was recorded against NEATO, and the company has been given two months to pay the fine and court costs.
Magistrate Keegan found NEATO failed to properly train and supervise workers when "it would have been easy to take steps to avoid the risks".
"The risk was obvious and it was easily forseeable what sort of consequences would have occurred," Keegan said.
The magistrate also recognised the "tragic consequences" of Park-Fing losing his life at only 18.
"No doubt there have been devastating and long-standing effects, not only on his family, and I acknowledge [his mother's victim impact statement], but also on his friends and co-workers involved in the tragedy," Keegan said.
NEATO's lawyers conceded it was culpable for some aspects of the fatal incident, but claimed that before entering the Work for the Dole program Park-Fing had answered "no" on a questionnaire that asked "Is it suitable to ride in the back of a tray on a tractor?"
The court also heard there was no certified supervisor on the site on the day of the incident, but that one arrived later.
"It's very, very difficult," Park-Fing's teary mum Jenny told reporters outside the court after the verdict.
The Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland (RASQ) and Work for the Dole project coordinator Adrian Strachan have also been charged over the teenager's death, for alleged breaches of the Work Health Safety Act 2011.
The QOIR has alleged the RASQ failed to implement adequate systems to prevent workers riding on the trailer, including ensuring workers were adequately supervised; and that the RASQ could have better maintained the tractor. If guilty, it faces a maximum fine of $1.5 million for each charge.
Strachan has been charged with failing to comply with his duty as a worker. If the allegation is proven he faces a maximum fine of $50,000.
Both parties will appear before the court in coming months.
In April 2016 the Toomwoomba Showgrounds site was shut down and has not reopened. As of June 2018, 11 outdoor Work for the Dole sites run by NEATO in Queensland had been shut down. The company no longer runs worksites.
Earlier this week Labor senator Doug Cameron renewed demands for the government's report into the Park-Fing's death be released publicly.
Small business minister Michaelia Cash, the minister in charge of the Work for the Dole program at the time of the teenager's death, promised to conduct an investigation and publish a report within a month of the incident.
Two and a half years on and nothing has been released.
The Department of Employment (now the Department of Jobs and Small Business) provided an internal report to Cash in September 2016, which the government has declined to release publicly because it contains information that could "harm" NEATO. The report was given to NEATO.
BuzzFeed News understand the new jobs minister Kelly O'Dwyer is happy for the report to be released, once the full court process is completed.
Labor has not ruled out scrapping the Work for the Dole program if it wins the next federal election.