Scott Morrison proposal to allow under-18s to drive forklifts catches states by surprise

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: James Ross/AAP</span>
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

Victoria, NSW and Queensland say there are no plans to lower age, which PM had said was among proposals to ease supply chain workforce shortages

A proposal by the prime minister, Scott Morrison, to allow children to drive forklifts appears to have caught the states by surprise, with the Queensland, Victorian and New South Wales governments saying they have no plans to lower the current age of 18.

Unions have also criticised the proposal, saying forklifts are dangerous machines that require skilled operation.

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Speaking on Wednesday ahead of a meeting of national cabinet on Thursday, Morrison said he wanted to further reduce regulation in the transport and other sectors in order to ease a staffing crisis that has crippled supply chains and stripped supermarket shelves of staples including pork and some fresh vegetables.

“There are other changes that need to be made and they’re at a state level, and I’m continuing to pursue those with the states,” Morrison said.

“There are changes that we need to make around the age of forklift drivers, to get quite specific.”

But speaking after Thursday’s meeting, the prime minister admitted the short-lived idea had been scrapped due to a lack of support. The ACT government issued a statement noting: “Sensible and safe measures to alleviate workforce shortages have been supported but allowing 16-year old’s to drive a forklift was unanimously rejected by all states and territories.”

Forklift drivers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria require a special “high risk work” licence, which involves doing a short course and sitting a test, and is only available to people who are 18 and over.

Morrison did not say on Wednesday what age minimum he wanted instead of 18 and a spokesperson for the prime minister did not provide an age when asked.

A spokesperson for Queensland’s industrial relations minister, Grace Grace, said there had been “no contact” from the prime minister on the idea with either the minister’s office or at the departmental level with the Office of Industrial Relations.

“It’s certainly not something Queensland is considering independently,” the spokesperson said.

Under the Palaszczuk government, Queensland has taken a hard line on safety at work. In 2017 it became the second state or territory, after the ACT, to introduce industrial manslaughter laws. The first industrial manslaughter conviction under the new law, in 2020, involved a man crushed between a forklift operated by an unlicensed driver and a stationary truck.

Tim Lyons, who conducted the review that resulted in the industrial manslaughter laws, said that “letting kids whizz around on forklifts is insane”.

“They are not dodgem cars,” he said in a Twitter post. “The kids are very likely to kill or injure themselves or someone else.”

A spokesperson for NSW’s minister for customer service and digital government, Victor Dominello, said: “At this stage, NSW has no plan to change the current law.”

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said he was not aware that the proposal to lower the age for forklift licences would be up for discussion at national cabinet.

“With no disrespect to the PM or anybody else, I’m always up for new ideas and being creative, but I’ve had two meetings these last two Mondays with supermarket CEOs and they haven’t suggested that,” Andrews said.

Godfrey Moase, an executive director at the United Workers Union, said he had seen “a couple of fatalities” involving forklifts during his time as a union official.

“It’s as dangerous or can be as dangerous as a motor vehicle,” he said.

“You’re driving … a piece of heavy equipment that can cause severe trauma injuries to people on impact.”

He said the age should not be reduced.

“It’s a piece of heavy machinery that needs to be treated with due care and respect,” he said.

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