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Launch [virtual] of Australian Institute of Health & Safety National Health & Safety Conference

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I note the theme of this conference is ‘Power and Politics’.

As Governor-General I might steer clear of entering a discussion centred on ‘power and politics’, but as Patron of the Australian Institute of Health & Safety I would like to say this:

As industry leaders and influencers in workplace health and safety, there may never be a more important time in your working career than right now.

And how you manage ‘power and politics’ will be key to how effective you are at doing your job.

As a former Australian Defence Force Member on the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Commission I understand how difficult it is sometimes to navigate your way through differing agenda and viewpoints.

The importance of the ‘soft’ skills — such as an ability to lead, to articulate a position and to negotiate — cannot be underestimated in this area.

In preparing this speech I wanted to talk confidently about the progress of WH&S practices in Australia.

But my research has thrown up questions with implied negative answers.

I note one of my questions is the title of a presentation on day three: ‘Why isn’t workplace health and safety improving?’

I also note a block of time has been allocated to ‘Safety Differently’ — a movement within the industry that, philosophically, offers a different point of view to that found in the model WH&S laws.

But, again, as Patron, I don’t wish to elaborate further other than to say if this is the case then perhaps rather than ‘Power and Politics’ we should consider two other Ps — ‘Principles and Purpose’. Clearly, re-articulating the ‘why’ of WH&S might shift the debate away from one about the balance of power on WH&S decisions.

It will require the use of the soft skills and lay a solid foundation for reform.

Whatever is decided, as representatives of a variety of industries and professions across the country you are in an ideal position to affect positive change.

And now is an important time.

Perhaps at the front of your mind today, as members of Australia’s professional association for workplace health & safety, you may be pondering the role you can play in helping our nation emerge successfully from COVID-19.

When I think about Australia in the months and years ahead in the context of the pandemic, I frame my thoughts in the simple, post-operation review process that I was taught in the ADF: to achieve our agreed outcome, what must be sustained and what must be improved?

In our current situation, therefore, what policies, programs and actions must be sustained and in what areas must we improve.

This conference hosted by the Australian Institute of Health & Safety, which comprises more than 60 presentations on a diverse range of issues, fits neatly into the ‘sustain and improve’ framework.

The role of the health and safety profession in keeping people safe at work is now more recognised and important than ever before.

Conversations about our new work patterns and workplace safety are as commonplace as discussions about the weather.

Your work, therefore, will impact directly on our nation’s ability to reduce the incidence of breakouts of COVID-19 and to manage them properly when they happen.

However, as much as COVID-19 is an important workplace issue that has to be managed carefully, a range of other workplace risks and hazards still exist and they too need to be managed just as carefully.

This includes mental health and wellbeing.

I congratulate the Institute for including ‘Health and Wellbeing’ in the conference program.

There is no doubt that there is much uncertainty in the community at the moment. 

But what is crystal clear is that the Institute’s vision for safe and healthy people in productive workplaces and communities is of critical importance to our economy.

Our nation’s prosperity AND safe and productive workplaces are not mutually exclusive.

Your input is important.

That is why you are here, at this conference.

Utilise your networks.

Take the time to engage.

And, most importantly, listen — whether it’s through face-to-face experiences or online.

That is the key to developing your knowledge and capability.

I congratulate all involved at the Australian Institute of Health & Safety for organising this conference and thank all participants for your work in this space.

I wish you a productive and rewarding three days.

It gives me great pleasure to declare the AIHS National Health & Safety Conference open.

Thank you.