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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13377


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (11:51): I want to thank the member for Charlton for bringing this very important motion to the attention of the House. I grew up in Seven Hills in the 1970s, and Seven Hills forms part of what is commonly known in Sydney as the asbestos belt, where more than 30 per cent of fibro-clad houses existed in those council areas in the early 1980s. Today, I represent Blacktown City Council and part of Holroyd City Council, which remain in that great asbestos belt of Western Sydney. It is sometimes called the fibro belt. This is where the use of asbestos-containing products is especially concentrated. It was largely built around the 1950s and 1960s, and there are streets where every house was built using fibro sheets reinforced with asbestos.

Aside from that, one of the reasons why I consider this to be such an important issue is that asbestos eradication, identification and treatment is front of mind for many people in Western Sydney, including our local councils, home renovators and homeowners. You only have to go around to some of these areas, as I do on a regular basis, to see the large fences with the huge signs saying, 'Asbestos eradication in process; keep out,' to know that this is an issue that is going to be ongoing and which people in later years are going to find themselves suffering from.

I think it is incredibly important to also recognise the role that is played by local government and also by the community. In particular, we see cases of asbestos dumping. There are people who still think that it is okay and that there are no health ramifications caused by this. Just to bring to light some issues, recently asbestos scares happened after building waste fell from trucks. But I also want to point out something close to home. In May last year, we had a headline: 'Asbestos scare shuts down Blacktown Hospital upgrade works indefinitely'.We actually had tonnes of fill delivered to Blacktown Hospital's reconstruction laden with asbestos. The fact that this can go on today not only is an absolute blight on the systems of checks and balances but also highlights that this is going to be, as I said, an ongoing issue which is not going to go away overnight.

On that point, I want to congratulate our local councils for the initiatives that they have taken in this area, and I particularly want to congratulate Holroyd City Council. They have been back-to-back winners of various awards in excellence in environmental leadership and sustainability for their work recognising their innovation in asbestos management. They also run a website, for those viewers or people listening in: asbestosanswers.com.au. They have created a website that aims to answer questions that council staff are commonly asked in relation to asbestos in a simple, non-jargonistic way, and I congratulate them for taking that initiative.

One of the other big issues that have come to light in recent times as well is that we still have issues of asbestos being imported in building equipment. I note that an article on the ABC on 23 October this year said:

The Asbestos Industry Association said the potentially deadly material was discovered in cement compound board from China two months ago.

What is even more concerning is the samples were tested in Asia and a certificate was issued saying they were asbestos-free when in fact they contained white asbestos.

I also point out the fines for importing these types of products. The penalty is $170,000, when in 2012 Safe Work Australia estimated the average human cost of an asbestos related fatality was over $1 million and for asbestos related incapacity it was over $2 million. It is incredibly important to recognise that, unless something is done urgently, unless we have action on this, we are going see yet another wave of people suffering these asbestos related deceases—not just the people who dug it up, not just the people who lived in the houses, not just the people who have been knocking down the houses or being exposed to asbestos dumping. People today are using this in houses.

I just want to echo the sentiments that James Hardie must immediately step up to ensure that the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund is property funded. That is an absolutely essential element and I think we would all agree with that.

Debate adjourned.