The state government considered making new workplace safety laws retrospective after being lobbied by Liberal Party donors who are fighting criminal workplace safety convictions under earlier laws, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
Push to quash workplace safety convictions traced to political donors
The state government considered making new workplace safety laws retrospective after being lobbied by Liberal Party donors who are fighting criminal convictions under earlier laws.
But the government abandoned the plan after the Opposition and the Herald raised questions about its motivation for interfering with criminal prosecutions.
The government changed workplace safety laws in January to bring them into line with Commonwealth legislation.
In February this year, the state government agency WorkCover asked the NSW Industrial Relations Court to adjourn 22 of more than 200 live cases initiated under the old Occupational Health and Safety Act.
WorkCover said it could not reveal the reasons for the adjournments, leaving the judge, Roger Boland, perplexed.
Behind the scenes, the agency was asessing where the cases stood under the new law, but kept the purpose of the review a secret.
An email from a WorkCover lawyer dated February 20, obtained by the Herald, said the instructions for the review “have come from much higher than WorkCover itself”.
Among the cases being reviewed was one against Hunter developer and businessman, Hilton Grugeon, a self-declared ”big donor to both political parties”.
The Herald can reveal that Mr Grugeon personally lobbied Finance Minister Greg Pearce, Energy Minister Chris Hartcher and Attorney General Greg Smith for the new law to be made retrospective which would have diminished his risk of prosecution. He has also publicly called on the government to quash convictions gained under the previous workplace safety laws.
He told the Newcastle Herald last year the government should ”do the proper thing and quash the convictions that were gained under the [previous] laws”.
Federal MP Bob Baldwin also wrote to the ministers asking them to make the new Workplace Health and Safety Act retrospective.
Mr Grugeon and his businesses have given at least $212,000 in donations to the Liberal Party, including to Mr Baldwin, a friend of more than 16 years’standing. He says he’s also donated $100,000 to former Newcastle Labor MP, Jodi McKay.
Mr Baldwin told the Herald he wrote to ministers Hartcher and Pearce seeking retrospective action of the new law on behalf of all people ”denied natural justice” under the earlier law.
”I didn’t ask for any direct favour for Hilton Grugeon individually,” he said. (oh…really?)
”There have been a number of people who are concerned in the business community that this denial of natural justice occurs.”
Mr Hartcher, who says the old law denies natural justice, wrote to his department on February 16 asking for ”all prosecutions pending under the OH&S Act to be stayed” pending legal advice from the Crown solicitor about whether the cases should continue. He said ministers Pearce and Smith agreed.
Attached to the email obtained by the Herald was confidential advice from WorkCover which said that making the laws retrospective was ”likely to be controversial and opposed by lawyers and worker representatives”.
Opposition Leader, John Robertson said: “Chris Hartcher, Greg Pearce and Greg Smith need to explain why they sought to intervene in criminal prosecutions and prevent that justice from being served.”
Mr Grugeon said directors of small business had been unfairly targeted by the ”evil” workplace safety laws by denying them a presumption of innocence.
”The law was bad enough that O’Farrell changed it to the Federal model… but he was afraid people would have a shot at him if he was to make it retrospective. I never asked for charges against me to be dropped. I am very happy to face the charges with the presumption of innocence.”
[Source: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/push-to-quash-safety-convictions-traced-to-political-donors-20120610-204g8.html]And how would YOU feel if our relative, spouse, brother, sister, mate, best friend got run over and died at work due to workplace safety breached and the perpetrator walked away scot-free, uh?