National Day of Mourning

Today I spoke in Parliament about the National Day of Mourning and the importance of workplace safety.

Kane Ammerlaan was a 16-year-old building apprentice when his boss asked him to do some cash work on the weekend. His job was to carry overloaded buckets of concrete up to a roof with no safety harness and no railings. If he carried to the buckets half full, his boss would throw concrete at him and send him back down to fill up the bucket. One day the buckets were overloaded and he fell. Concrete went into his eyes. He told his boss it was hurting, but his boss laughed and told him to get back to work. Eventually, he phoned his girlfriend rather than an ambulance and, by the time he got to the hospital, the concrete had set on his eye. He lost 100 per cent vision in his eye.


Tom Takurau, aged 25, lost his legs and then his life in 2008 after an 18-tonne concrete girder slid from a supporting pylon on a section of Brisbane's Eastern Busway being built beside Ipswich Road near Buranda. Mr Takurau's grieving partner, Krystal Ross, said, 'He's not here today because he had faith that the job he was working was earning him an honest day's pay on a safe work site.'

I met Ms Ross and many others at the National Day of Mourning in April 2014. As at the National Day of Mourning, 58 Australian workers had been killed while at work. Annually, the toll is around 200. The National Day of Mourning recognises the importance of all of us working together to ensure that workplaces are safe. One of the organisations that takes that the lead in that is the CFMEU. I commend the CFMEU and other unions working to improve workplace safety, yet it deeply concerns me that CFMEU officials such as Michael O'Connor and Dean Hall are being demonised by this government. It is absolutely vital that for workers like Mr Ammerlaan and Mr Takurau to have a union in their corner making sure that workplaces are safe.

We know that construction work is one of the most hazardous occupations in Australia. Yet from this government we see very little commitment to improving occupational health and safety standards in Australia's workplace. There is little in last night's budget that will work to reduce the toll on Australia's workplaces, that will support the vital work of unions in improving occupational health and safety.

I know all members of this House are committed in their hearts to reducing workplace deaths but I do not see that same commitment when it comes to a policy commitment, when it comes to the bills that this parliament passes and the budgetary choices this government makes. We need to reduce that toll, and that is why the National Day of Mourning is so important. 

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.