When is a child not a child and what does that have to do with WHS harmonisation?

When is a child not a child and what does that have to do with WHS harmonisation?

Louisa Chesswas

In workplace health and safety in Australia many current discussions revolve around harmonisation of WHS. It has, to date, not exactly been successful, but one only needs to look at legislative differences in other areas to realise that it was probably never going to work. The various governments don’t even agree, for instance, on the age or definition of a child, youth or “young person”.

Confusion reigns. According to the United Nations a person is a child until they are 15, at which time they become a youth until they are 24. Presumably, by some miracle, at 25 they are then adults. But there is chaos amongst the Australian states and territories when deciding when a child is no longer a child (for instance, in the ACT a child is a person who is under 12 years old and a “young person” is between 12 and 17 years of age, and in SA a child is anyone under the age of 18) and at what age a child or youth (or “young person”) can legally do certain things.

A child may not sit in the front seat of a car until age 4. Very sensible. I would make that 18 or until they have their own car.

A child may not be a pillion on a motorbike until age 8. Except at 8 are their legs long enough to reach the footrests? This doesn’t appear to be a deciding factor. Perhaps it’s left up to “common sense”.

It is recommended that children do not walk to school alone until they are 10. Also very sensible, not just from the safety perspective but most mums appear to need more exercise than they get.

Most states have some sort of legislation regarding the age of employment and just what constitutes “employment”, with regulations being a lot tighter for children under 15 except in Queensland where it’s 13. WA goes one step further and adds that “A child is considered to be employed if engaged to carry out work in a business, trade or occupation carried on for profit, whether or not they are paid or receive any other kind of reward.” (Someone better tell the WA kids that they might be working for nothing…)

At 16, in WA, ACT, NSW, NT, VIC and QLD a youth can legally have sex. In TAS and SA it’s 17. And no-one can leave school until they are 17 unless they are in training or full time paid employment.

However, they can’t drive a car or ride a 50cc scooter in NT until they are 16 ½, 18 in VIC and 17 elsewhere, and can’t ride a motorbike on the road until they are 18. Or operate a forklift or drink in a bar or marry or vote.

So let’s recap. In general, a “young person” can work at 13 or 15, have sex at 16 even though they are still at school and sex education is not compulsory, ride a scooter or drive a car – any car – in traffic at 17, but can’t ride a motorbike – up to 250cc – or legally drink until they are 18. Hmmmmm.

Yet “parental responsibilities”, everywhere it seems, extend until the child/young person/youth is 18, whether or not those responsibilities have been superseded by legislation, unless the child/young person/youth is married or in a de facto relationship.

Perhaps, then, it isn’t any wonder, in a system of government which is based on independence of state and territory, that the pipe dream of harmonised WHS legislation was never going to work in reality. Pity. It could’ve been great.

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