MS TIERNEY (Western Victoria—Minister for Training and Skills, Minister for Higher Education) (10:13): The memorial park at the foot of pier 10 honours and remembers 35 men who lost their lives when the West Gate Bridge collapsed during construction. Today is the 50th anniversary of that terrible industrial disaster where 88 children lost their fathers. Each year there is a ceremony, which I have attended whenever I have been able to. This year the pandemic has delayed the commemoration of 50 years until next year.
That October day, those who died included riggers, boilermakers, ironworkers, carpenters and fitters—all very proud unionists. Construction is a tough industry to work in, but no-one expects to go to work and to die—nor should they. The subsequent royal commission placed the blame squarely on the design and construction methods of two companies in building the bridge. It took a disaster of this scale to force government and community to transform workplace safety. Since that time Labor governments have legislated to protect workers rights and to ensure proper compensation for death and injury, starting with the Cain government’s landmark Occupational Health and Safety Act 1985, ironically making law many of the measures that were adopted on the bridge project after the accident. The West Gate Bridge collapse also helped give voice to new generations of unionists and leaders who have made safety a number one priority.
Thirty-five men died in a disaster that the commission described as ‘utterly unnecessary’, and I pay tribute to current and past members of the West Gate Bridge Memorial Committee for keeping this issue alive and relevant and importantly to family members and the local community for their strength and determination over the past 50 years. We will always remember.