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ACT Proposes Amendments to Protect Volunteers

ACT Will Propose Amendments to Protect Parent Volunteers

Today's National Party warning of new OSH risks to community volunteers is correct but too mild says ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks.

"Volunteers who work with children are already exposed to unlimited liability and criminal prosecution if something goes wrong. My concerns came to a head after the June annual conference of the New Zealand Parent Teachers Association. I have worked on a Bill to protect volunteers working with children, who risk legal liability under the current law.

"The loony parts of the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill are made worse by the Sentencing Act passed in May this year. While it generally reduces penalties for crime, it makes it compulsory for a judge to order full compensation for a victim of a crime, from the offender, unless the offender has no money. This may persuade victims to prosecute even technical breaches of safety laws and regulations to qualify for reparations.

"Volunteer parents who marshal at a school cross country, or triathlon, or who supervise swimmers at a school picnic, or who escort students on a tramp, or even drive children to school sports, could be liable.

"Many accidents look avoidable in hindsight. Good intentions may be no defence. Even the costs of a successful defence may be more than an average family could afford.

"Prudent volunteers will withdraw their help. They are not paid to take these risks. And our community cannot afford to do all the things that we have traditionally done for ourselves, and for each other, if they can only be done by paid experts.

"The judge does not have a discretion to reduce reparations just because the `offender' meant no harm.

"Parliament should be going in the other direction and cutting red tape and protecting our traditions of community self help, and volunteering.

"I will expect National's support for amendments to the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, with provisions from my draft Volunteer Protection Bill. It would start with full protection for parent volunteers who take at least a reasonable standard of care equal to the standard they would take with their own children", Mr Franks said.

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