Statement On Indulgence - West Gate Bridge

15 Oct 2018
Prime Minister

Mr Morrison: (Cook—Prime Minister) (14:01): On indulgence, I rise today to remember an Australian tragedy and to remember those who were lost. On this day 48 years ago, Australians watched in horror as the West Gate Bridge collapsed during construction. It's not a particular anniversary this year, just like it's the 16th anniversary this year since the terrible Bali bombings that were commemorated just a few days ago. But, whether it's the 48th or the 16th or the 35th or the 55th, each time this date and this period is marked it's a chilling reminder and a terrible time of sadness for all of those who are touched personally by these tragic incidents.

On that day, Australians watched in horror as the West Gate Bridge collapsed during construction. Most of us who sit in this chamber would have been small children. Some would not have been born. But Australians around the country on that day watched in horror and 35 men needlessly lost their lives. Just before midday, on what should have been just another ordinary working day, 2,000 tonnes of steel and concrete crashed to the ground and the waters below. Thirty-five working men, many of them migrants who had come to Australia seeking a better life, were killed and lost. Kids lost their dads, wives lost their husbands, parents lost their sons and family members lost their brothers, and many, many more were seriously injured. Miraculously, 18 men escaped the carnage and, on that day, these survivors would be the first responders, doing what they could do to save their mates. It was a day that should never be forgotten, and it's not been forgotten today. I appreciate the Leader of the Opposition writing to me about this anniversary and suggesting us doing this here today together.

Mostly, when these things happen we call them accidents—a chance of fate—but that wasn't the case on this day. The collapse of the West Gate Bridge was not an accident; nor was it a chance of fate. As the royal commission found, the collapse was as a result of man-made errors—error upon error, mistakes compounded by efforts to rectify them, and all occurring within a confrontational culture marked by distrust, division and demarcation. Thankfully, much has changed since the 1970s and, of course, our workplaces are much safer today than they were almost half a century ago. Tougher laws have been introduced and workers have been given more of a say, as they should, about safety on the job. Safety is now something everyone is responsible for right across the organisation. We achieve so much more in our workplaces and, indeed, in a country where we work together and we look out for each other, whatever our role is within an organisation. As the report of the Royal Commission into the Failure of West Gate Bridge said:

It is widely accepted that the essential requirements for good labour relations are mutual trust, confidence and respect as between management, trade unions and men. Once this relationship is established, all concerned will work as a team and first-class production can be achieved. Without it, little if any progress can be made.

As a lesson for today, the mistakes that are made are not supposed to bind us forever; they're supposed to guide us into our future. On this 48th anniversary, we remember the lessons of those times and we remember the 35 men who needlessly perished and their families, who have lived with this every day from then till now and will into the future. Today, tens of thousands of vehicles will pass across the West Gate Bridge. Its flags will be lowered in an act of remembrance. Families, friends and former workmates will gather at the site of the collapse, as they do every year, to remember the loved ones they have lost. It's only appropriate for us here today to pause here in the nation's parliament to remember the lessons of that day so that they might shine a path forward for all of us. May the 35 souls lost at the West Gate Bridge rest in peace and may God bless their families.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!