The Evolution of Australia's Harmonised OHS Laws: Questions for Today and Tomorrow
(2011) 39 Australian Business Law Review 434
Posted: 29 May 2013 Last revised: 2 Oct 2017
Date Written: 2011
Australia’s new harmonised occupational health and safety (OHS) regulatory regime is scheduled to commence operation on 1 January 2012. The new harmonised regime is the most significant reform to OHS regulation in Australia since the adoption in the 1970s and 80s of the Robens reforms. Yet such has been its evolution and the nature of the final product, that questions about its sustainability and future are already being asked. This article examines the new harmonised regime and concludes that much of the skepticism surrounding it is well founded: that the regime may not deliver the uniformity of law and consistency of experience its advocates seek; that it may prove slow and cumbersome in maintaining its currency; and that it is vulnerable to the introduction of new jurisdictional differences over time. Experience across a range of other regulatory regimes teaches us that when concerns such as these materialise, the alternative to which governments often turn is greater centralisation. With this possibility in mind, the article reflects upon the lessons of the past and asks some important questions that should be answered before we commit to that future. The answers to these questions are relevant not only to the future of OHS regulation in Australia, but to all areas of business regulation that are - or may in the future be - the subject of centralising forces.
Keywords: Harmonisation, occupational health and safety, OHS, federalism, work health and safety, social regulation
JEL Classification: I18, J28, K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation