Release type: Speech


International Day of Mourning, Sydney


The Hon Tony Burke MP
Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations
Minister for the Arts


THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS, MINISTER FOR THE ARTS: Thanks, Rita. And thank you, Martin, for welcoming us to country and acknowledging the ancestors of past and present. To all my parliamentary colleagues particularly the Deputy Premier and my counterpart Sophie Cotsis and also my federal colleagues Emma McBride and Senator Tony Sheldon. Above all to the families, and David White as the representative of the families today.

Dealing with grief is enough without feeling a willingness to then put that grief to the purpose of trying to protect others. But that's what the families here have done. I honour and respect that. This year already we've lost 36 workers. 36 workers this year who were lost in one of two ways: either they left that morning thinking it was an ordinary day and didn't come back home that afternoon, or they went to work, day after day, after day, not realising that there was something at work that was gradually bringing about their death.

We all remember the fights and the needs and the battles to deal with asbestos. The legacy of asbestos is still with us in so many ways with asbestosis. We need to adopt that same level of commitment as we deal with silicosis. I am sad that we had to, but pleased that we did, in February, when I met with state and territory work, health and safety ministers, commissioned work to be able to look at what a ban on engineered stone would look like, and to also commit to incorporating industrial manslaughter in the national model work health and safety laws.

But I'm mindful that those sorts of outcomes that I sought with my state counterparts, they didn't start with the actions of ministers. They didn't start with the campaign to politicians.

They started because families spoke up. It started because of women like Kay Catanzariti, her son Ben killed at work while in Canberra back in July 2012, who has been meeting endlessly to get action on industrial manslaughter, which is now finally coming. People like Joanna, a 35-year-old woman who I've met, who wasn't working cutting engineered stone, wasn't working on the tools in a quarry, but has contracted silicosis at the age of 35 through an admin job because of the practices at the rest of the site. For everybody who is facing these challenges now, and for everybody who is a member of a family who has been hit so hard and so unacceptably already, we know that offering our condolences is not enough.

But the Government of Australia does offer its condolences. But with it we offer our commitment. People go to work to give themselves a life, that work should never take away a life.