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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13376

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (11:46): The member for Charlton cited a number of individuals who have made heroic efforts in this field. I would like to add, more particularly with the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, the former maritime official, Barry Robson, who has made it his life task to struggle for the victims. I also mention Taylor and Scott who, through association with the CFMEU, have also played a strong role. In this parliament, Senator Lisa Singh and the member for McMillan have been out there with regard to awareness, having forums and seminars during the year and, more particularly, raising the question of the continued use of asbestos by companies in the developing world when they have no excuse for saying they do not know about it.

Having grown up in Granville and Guildford, I am very cognisant of this reality. The former plant at Camellia employed up to 1,500 people, both at James Hardie and the former CSR related company, Wunderlich, with a predominantly Maltese and Lebanese Maronite workforce. In the course of my life, I had experience with my own father. Amongst multiple reasons for his death was asbestos related illness from having worked in breaking up building materials at the age of 15 or 16. I watched a friend, George Zeiter, die. With his wife, Kathie, we spent many social times. I saw him struggle for breath and, to my mind, at that stage he was paid a measly figure, and that is typical of the reality in this field. I was also able to make sure that my friend and now judge Anna Katzmann was able to rush to the home of metalworkers official John Wallace to make sure papers were filled, because of the very severe time limitations for people to wage their claims. From recollection, John made it by about two days before he died.

Whilst someone said earlier that it is a historic event, it is still contemporary. A previous speaker cited the reality that James Hardie is severely cutting their payments. The agreement was, of course, that it would operate on cash flows. I have to say that, in the case of this company, given its rather shabby history, one would have to have grave suspicions about the manipulation of company finances to avoid payments. One would have to have grave doubts that scheme, which was admittedly agreed to.

Another article recently highlighted James Hardie's nefarious conduct in this field. In The Saturday Paper on 7 November was an article by Susan Chenery. She spoke about the treatment of the Baryulgil people, an Indigenous community in Northern New South Wales where there was a mine. On the broader issue of asbestos in this country, Matt Peacock, the former ABC journalist and producer, played a very important role. It was only in 1977 that the people in Baryulgil knew what they were enduring. In the article by Susan Chenery, amongst points made, she said:

Walker was given a pension of "20-something" dollars a week when her husband died, after a lump sum of $40,000. "In 17 years, the pension is up to $80," ... "That is not much money for losing the person who was the breadwinner for the family."

Ray Jones says most of the Baryulgil people who died of asbestos-related illness " died without getting a cent or got a pathetic amount " . When Walker ' s brother died, his wife was given $4000 by James Hardie.

The promised medical centre was only established in 1990, despite some discussions back in 1984. It further said:

"Has anybody ever mentioned that it can give you cancer?" I don't think anybody had ever been made aware of the dangers of it. They were virtually swimming in the dust and kids crawling around in it.

That is the kind of reality on the ground for Baryulgil. That is the kind of conduct of James Hardie. They knew for decades of the dangers they were facing, and what was seen at Baryulgil was also practised in metropolitan Sydney at this plant. I have to say that, in a discussion with Matt Peacock some years ago, he made the point that there are still former executives of this company who know where there are significant dumps of asbestos in the inner west region of Sydney. These constitute a continuing problem, and it is quite alarming that these people have not come forward, years after their employment with the company, to expose where these dumps are. I have to say, they were multiple.

A situation where 11,500 people have been newly diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in Australia between 1982 and 2009 is certainly a matter that should entertain the interest of this parliament. I commend the mover, and I commend members in this parliament who have had a very strong involvement around the issue.