The Coalition has been accused of meddling in the affairs of the Victorian WorkCover Authority after two safety ads were pulled and a lucrative advertising contract was mysteriously thrown into limbo at the 11th hour.
Coalition accused of meddling in Victorian WorkCover safety campaign
The Sunday Age’s state political editor.
9 March 2014
Safety campaigns to protect workers have been scrapped in what some say is a politically motivated attempt to make the state government’s key workplace authority less hostile to employers.
The Coalition has been accused of meddling in the affairs of the Victorian WorkCover Authority after two ads were pulled and a lucrative advertising contract was mysteriously thrown into limbo at the 11th hour, despite two agencies being shortlisted months ago.
Several well-placed sources have told The Sunday Age that in at least one instance, an ad that came down heavily on employers for unsafe work practices was removed from television last year ”because the minister didn’t like it’‘. Several months later, a second advertisement warning businesses about injuries relating to manual labour was also canned before it went to air after government advisers saw the script, resulting in about $600,000 in wasted production costs.
WorkCover says the so-called ”Niggles” campaign was scrapped because ”the filmed results fell short of the standards set by the VWA for its awareness campaign”. However, an independent assessment by Sweeney Research found the campaign would have had a ”positive impact” on workers, and would encourage employers to adopt a safer approach.
The allegations come at a sensitive time for the WorkCover Authority, which in the past few months has restructured its operations, shed staff, and is now in the process of scrapping the WorkSafe logo – one of Australia’s most recognised brands – as part of a government overhaul of the workers compensation safety system.
While unions say the move is shortsighted and ideologically driven, WorkCover Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips said the shift was appropriate given changes to WorkCover legislation, which comes into effect on July 1. From that point, WorkSafe will be known by its legal name, the Victorian WorkCover Authority.
Asked whether the government had a role in the campaigns’ scrapping, the minister’s spokesman, Andrew Drever, said the Coalition ”encourages discussion, so that the commitments made by the government on legislative or policy changes or initiatives are reflected in the overall strategy of the VWA. However, VWA ultimately makes its own decisions about what campaigns will run.”
”While the government will have views on the content of VWA’s advertising material, final decisions on what goes to air is a matter for VWA,” Mr Drever said.
Labor, meanwhile, has questioned why hundreds of thousands of dollars had been wasted cancelling ads at the same time as staff were losing their jobs.
”The government needs to explain the chaos in WorkCover advertising,” opposition spokesman Robin Scott said. ”It is the height of arrogance to waste money cancelling advertising while sacking staff at WorkSafe.”
Questions have also been raised about a lucrative contract that mysteriously stalled at the end of last year, despite two agencies being chosen to progress through to the final stages.
According to a probity audit obtained by The Sunday Age, five organisations were initially shortlisted for the tender. After evaluation, a recommendation was made to invite two agencies – Grey Melbourne and the Shannon Company – to take part in the negotiating stage of the tender process, which would determine who should win the contract. But months later, an agency is yet to be selected.
WorkCover did not answer questions about how much the contract was worth, why the process had stalled, or to what extent, if any, the government had been involved. Instead, a spokesman said: ”A shortlist of agencies are participating in the final stage of the tender and have been kept fully informed of the process. The VWA expects the result of the tender to be announced later this month.”