Safe Work flags parliament COVID concerns

Safe Work Australia didn't feel reassured enough about COVID safety, senator Louise Pratt says.
Safe Work Australia didn't feel reassured enough about COVID safety, senator Louise Pratt says.

Australia's workplace health and safety authority is worried about the risk of COVID-19 transmission in federal parliament.

Labor senator Louise Pratt told a Senate estimates hearing Safe Work Australia "didn't consider that they've been reassured enough that parliament was a safe COVID workplace" to attend the hearing in person.

They were granted permission to appear virtually before the hearing on Wednesday, though this was not the committee's preference.

It followed a meeting last week with the attorney-general's department and other agencies.

"Safe Work Australia is the agency responsible for setting the protocols in relation to safe workplaces," Senator Pratt said.

"I'm somewhat confused that they have a different assessment to other agencies when other agencies are supposed to role model and learn from them."

Industrial relations deputy secretary Martin Hehir, appearing in person, said Safe Work had concerns about the level of consultation.

"(This is) the first estimates where we've been required to return where there's community transmission, which is the main concern raised by Safe Work Australia here in Canberra," he said.

"My understanding is that Safe Work Australia would like to be consulted as to the detail of the safe work arrangements."

SafeWork Australia chief executive Michelle Baxter thought it was reasonable for staff to appear remotely given the pandemic.

Ms Baxter asked whether witnesses appearing in person would be seated one and a half metres apart, but said she didn't get an answer.

"I have never made any assessment, communicated concerns or reached a view that the hearings today are unsafe," she told the hearing via a video link.

"Rather, I as an officer of the Commonwealth under the Work Health and Safety Act sought additional information to assess whether all reasonably practicable measures had been taken to manage the risks of COVID-19."

Australian Associated Press