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Jason's law: parliament unites to act on Gympie family's tragedy and their fight to save others

Gympie Times

A GYMPIE and Clermont family's suffering has prompted nation-leading new workplace safety laws, adopted unanimously in the Queensland parliament on Wednesday and Thursday night.

Two unanimous votes on consecutive sitting days led to a new package of regulations aimed at preventing a repeat of the needless death of Jason Garrels, who was killed in 2012 in an avoidable accident on a Clermont building site.

Jason's Law, as the legislation may be remembered, came into being as part of the two legislative packages, moved by Employment and Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace and Housing and Public Works Minister Mick de Brenni.

It follows a five-year fight for justice by Jason's family, particularlyhis father Michael Garrels and mother Lee Garrels, who were living at Chatsworth when the tragedy occurred.

Gympie MP Tony Perrett yesterday praised parliament's unanimous support for changes to the Queensland construction and workers compensation laws, both relevant to the death of Jason Garrels.

Ms Grace and Mr de Brenni both praised the Garrels, who were present at Parliament House during the passage of both pieces of legislation.

And the feeling was mutual.

"It's restored my faith in the political process,” Mr Garrels said at the weekend, when interviewed at the family's new Canina home,

The new laws will require employers to take full and even criminal responsibility for safety failures in workplaces.

"When was the last time you heard of two laws being passed unanimously by the Queensland parliament on two consecutive days?” Mr Garrels.

Ms Grace's legislation includes a change to the Electrical Safety Act to establish an advisory committee, including Mr Garrels and other victims and their families, to help ensure the intentions of the new laws are put into practice by the departmental officers involved.

"That will be another story,” Mr Garrels said.

Jason Garrels was electrocuted on a worksite in his family's home town of Clermont in 2012.

The new laws, five years later, would have saved his life.

Jason had only been working on the site for nine days.

"He was only 20 and he was getting excited about his 21st, which was coming up,” Mr Garrels said.

Electrical contractor Nathan Day has now been charged with manslaughter over the death and Mr Garrels says he feels a full investigation may also reveal possible offences by others.

He said he was amazed at some of the industry and departmental submissions, which seemed more concerned about money than human life, on a worksite which had been declared so unsafe it posed an immediate threat of fatality, but where work was allowed to continue.

Mr Perret on Saturday congratulated Mr de Brenni, putting party differences aside to say the law, drafted by a joint-party committee, would be supported by "any reasonable person.”

Ms Grace and Mr de Brenni each praised the campaign work by the Garrels, as well as Paul Bailey, Jen Beveridge, Rachel Blee, Kevin and Christine Fuller, Dan and Debbie Kennedy, Bill Martin and Don and Julie Sager, who watched from the public gallery as their efforts achieved new levels of justice for workers across the state.

"They have all shown great courage in bringing greater awareness to the importance of health and safety at work,” Ms Grace told the House.

Mr de Brenni thanked them all, particularly the Garrels, "for their tireless advocacy for the improvement of safety in workplaces for all Queenslanders, in memory of their son Jason.

"This is historic legislation. These laws will prevent tragedy across Queensland worksites and keep Queenslanders safe from dangerous, nonconforming building products as they go about their day to day lives.

"Our chain of responsibility legislation will be a model for the rest of the nation,” the Minister said.

"I acknowledge the Garrels family and all of those who have been fighting tirelessly for change,” he said.

"Laws like this do not fix the tragedy of those families' situations. They cannot bring back a loved one such as Jason.

"That is all the more reason why I have been moved by the leadership of Michael and his companions.

"To act with such selfless determination to protect others from tragedy is to be commended.”

Mr Perrett said he was usually "very cautious about heavy-handed governments imposing more red tape and compliance on our lives and businesses.

"However, any reasonable person would regard (these) measures as providing a prime example of government meeting the practical expectation of the community.

"We are talking about protecting workers, protecting young tradies who should be able to come home after a day at work.”

Mr Perrett quoted the coroner in the Garrels case, who said he was "amazed” that a licensed electrician whose experience related to "fixing fans and domestic white goods and coldrooms” could simply apply for an electrical contractor's licence which allowed him to be responsible for the wiring of an 81-lot subdivision.”

"No parent should have to wait that long to see action,” Mr Perrett said.

"Jason was electrocuted when a cable covering slipped off a switchboard he had been carrying and came into contact with live wires.”

Jason's death had prompted the coroner to blame his bosses' "lack of experience and knowledge in relation to the wiring requirements of the subdivision led to the incident occurring,” Mr Perrett told parliament on Thursday night.

"Even looking at it coldly, it probably costs the community $2.4 million every time someone is killed on a worksite (more than the average cost of road deaths because of the additional investigations involved).

Mr Garrels says he is determined to see the new advisory committee do its job properly, after it was announced by Ms Grace to involve injured workers and the families of those who have died "in the process of advising government on safety needs.”

Mr Garrels says he is immensely grateful for the backing he has received, especially from Mr de Brenni and also praised Katter's Australian Party MP Shane Knuth, as well as.Ms Grace and other MPs.