DOUBTS about the future of Julia Gillard’s national workplace safety reforms have intensified amid growing acrimony between Canberra and Victoria over the costs to business.
Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten yesterday accused the Baillieu government of making baseless and “hysterical” claims about the costs of the scheme as Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu gave his clearest sign yet that he would oppose the package in its current form.
Mr Shorten accused Victoria of “irresponsibly scaremongering about the sky falling on small businesses”, setting the stage for a showdown at today’s Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.
The Australian yesterday reported on a detailed analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers Australia, sought by Victoria, that estimated harmonised laws would cost business $3.44 billion in Victoria over five years, including transition costs of more than $800 million.
Victoria is likely to have qualified backing from Western Australia and possibly the Northern Territory, The Australian has been told.
If Victoria dumps the package, it will signal the end of a truly national scheme.
Mr Shorten said the PwC report, which found small business would incur 78 per cent of transition costs and 74 per cent of ongoing costs, grossly inflated the costs of the scheme and failed to take into account the benefits.
He called for the report to be released for scrutiny by Safe Work Australia.
“The fact is, for many small businesses there will be little change under the harmonised laws,” he said.
“The estimated cost for the entire set of regulations for single-state firms and small businesses operating in a single state will be about $3.27 a year, or 6c a week, for each worker.
“This is clearly outweighed by the net benefit to society of $21.48 per worker per annum before any productivity gains are taken into account.
“The net national benefits of the reforms are $250m a year and will reap productivity improvements of up to $2bn per annum over the next 10 years.”
But Mr Baillieu reiterated his opposition yesterday, claiming his state’s laws were the best and should be replicated nationally.
PwC warns that Victorian small businesses could face average annual costs of $2330, and medium and large enterprises $7270. These groups would face annual costs of nearly $600m associated with the occupational health and safety reforms, the report asserts.
Transition costs for small business would be $634m the biggest burden across all businesses.
Mr Shorten accused Mr Baillieu of falling short on work safety, saying Victoria had 17 worker deaths in the second half of last year — five more than any other state. “Workplace safety requires co-operation, not conflict and cynical politics,” he added.
The PwC report found key issues concerning Victorian businesses included the redefining of hazardous confined spaces, changes to liability provisions and redefining what constitutes a worker.
Victoria is the key hold-out state on the reforms, although Western Australia plans to conduct a regulatory impact statement before passing any laws.
NSW agreed to the package with some legislative changes.