Sunday, May 15, 2011

When A Life Is Lost...

I'm wheeling out the soap box this week so bear with me.

One news story from my local ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) news service caught my eye this afternoon and it got me really riled up.

Safe Work South Australia, a government run body, has just finished investigating an industrial accident at the building site of South Australia's first desalination plant which, at the time of writing, is still under construction. That industrial accident claimed the life of a 35 year old man when a soft sling broke and he was hit by a steel beam. It killed him instantly.

Safe Work SA, in handing down it's findings to a parlimentary inquiry into the accident and death this week, has not ruled out prosecuting SA Water - another government entity - for the death. South Australian Water, who are tasked with management of our state's water resources, are the chief partners on this project.  And it has to be said that the building of this desalination plant has not been popular. It has been beset by delays, cost overruns and political machinations pretty much since it's construction was announced some years ago. It's not a stretch to describe the project as a poisoned chalice in some respects.

But this not what angers me.

The standard practice for political coverage by media outlets in this country - as I'm sure it is in most places - is to seek comment from the Opposition Party. In our case here in South Australia, the task of responding fell to prominent Member of Parliment for the conservative Liberal Party, Robert Lucas.

In commenting on the ramifications of a possible prosecution, Mr. Lucas said this - "If a government agency is found to be guilty, and it's a monetary penalty, then clearly the taxpayers or the water-rate payers in relation to SA Water would be responsible for the costs"

Now the faux concern that was dripping from this statement alone was nauseating, but I was more angry by the impression that Mr. Lucas was more concerned about how much a compensation penalty would cost taxpayers than whether it is appropriate to seek justice for the family of the worker who was killed in the course of performing his work. What an indescribable douche bag.

We citizens pay taxes to our government so that the government can fund entities like Safe Work SA who are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring our work places are safe. And when there are problems with our work places, when systems fall down and when lives are lost, we expect Safe Work SA to investigate work places and, if necessary prosecute the custodians of these work places - which in this case is the Government of South Australia. If the Government is found to be liable (through the failings of SA Water - another of it's own entities) then it must surely pay the price.

I would very much like to ask Mr. Lucas "What price is a life?"

This worker was doing his job and, in this day and age - when occupational health and safety policies are legally binding in Australia - he should not have gotten killed just because he was doing his job. He won't be going home to his family any longer. They have buried him and are no doubt still grief stricken over his loss. No amount of compensation could ever replace him but they are deserving of it none the less.

I said earlier that the South Australian Desalination Plant Project us somewhat of a poisoned chalice and has been beset by controversy. Chief among these controversies are the pressures that the South Australian Government has been putting on the corporation tasked with building the plant, to get this project finished on time to suit it's political objectives. These have been widely reported in our local media over the past couple of years and it seems almost inevitable that a tragedy was going to happen at the plant.

I could spend another two or three posts exploring the debacle of the Desalination Plant but this is not what I want to focus on. 

My focus is on the dip shits who claim to represent their constituencies by thinking that spending the taxes that I work for by doing my job should somehow be quarantined from compensating the families of honest workers who have died in the course of their duties.  This seems to be a characteristic of conservative governments - especially in this country anyway.

If the Government screws up then it has to pay - and suffer the consequences of abrogating it's responsibilities. For the Opposition to whine about the costs of compensating where it is deemed appropriate rather than expressing concern and sympathy to the loved ones of the man who has been lost to them is callous in the extreme.

I ask again - "What price is a life?"


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