Prime Minister John Key says the Health and Safety Reform Bill is being brought up by just about every organisation he visits.
But answering questions on the Bill at his Monday post Cabinet press conference he was quick to deny that any “particular caucus member or a small group of people” were driving what is now obviously a rewrite of the Bill being undertaken by the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee.
Mr Key’s comment is presumably a direct reference to National MP Judith Collins and the way she has left hints suggesting she has mobilised support from within the Caucus against the Bill.
Instead he said: “What has been true in our Caucus is that there has been wide ranging feedback from the people that we meet out in the community every day.”
“There’s a really really broad set of views on it.
“What we are concerned about is that we set the law in the right place.
“In other words that we improve health and safety ion the workplace but not in such a way that we pass legislation that is far too difficult for companies, particularly small ones, to follow or that it’s just too expensive for them to follow.
That may allay the concerns of some opponents of the Bill who worry about things like the provision for any sized business to have an employee as a Health and Safety Representative with considerable powers.
But he was not quite so forthcoming on concerns expressed by farmers.
He was asked what he would say to them when he visits the Field Days on Wednesday.
He said that the Government recognised some of the issues that the farming sector had raised about the bill.
“But we will also be making the case to them that on farm accidents are quite high and there have been far too many deaths on farms for there not to be changes,” he said.
“In our view it is necessary that there is change but we’ve also got to make sure that it is something that is workable and can be implemented.”
Federated Farmers generally support the Bill but are critical of some aspects of it.
They – like many industrial submitters to the Select Committee – are concerned that the provision for Health and Safety Representatives with powers to issue Improvement Notices to be extended to any sized enterprise could lead to a culture of “fear and mistrust” on a farm.
They are concerned about the Person Conducting a Business Undertaking (PCBU) having a primary duty of care for all workers regardless of whether they were employees or not could have a farmer in a situation where electricity linesmen were working on power lines crossing a property.
And they also believe that it should be enough to warn people like hunters temporarily on the property of dangers rather being held responsible and possibly liable for a fine if those people had an accident.
Mr Key was facing his post Cabinet Press Conference just hours after an accident in a South Island quarry which saw a worker buried under a massive slide.
That might have explained the caution with which he answered questions on the Bill.
But as he acknowledged this Bill is a major political challenge for the Government among its own supporters.
Perhaps for that reason he was unwilling to say what the Select Committee which is now reconsidering the Bill would actually do.
But it would seem highly improbable that there are not at the very least informal discussions between the Committee Chair, Jonathan Young, and senior members of the Cabinet in a bid to ensure this does not become an on-going political issue.