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Monday, 29 March 1999
Page: 4582

Mr McCLELLAND (3:53 PM) —I had pleasure in seconding the motion moved by the member for McMillan, and I commend him for moving it. It is an important issue. It is fair to say that there would not be a member in this House who would not know someone who has suffered from an asbestos related disease or, indeed had a family member who has so suffered. I sincerely hope that the member for Parramatta does not come down with any such disease.

The member for Parramatta indicated that at the time he was involved in asbestos removal, people were not fully aware of the dangers of asbestos. Regrettably, that may not be the case. Indeed, the evidence produced in so many common law cases establishes firmly that employers and government instrumentalities were certainly aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure yet, nonetheless, for reasons of economics, failed to take adequate precautions for their workers. One asks what the consequences would have been for those workers if there had not been trade unions in existence to promote health and safety issues, which, in this case, are literally a matter of life and death.

Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma per capita in the world and yet there still has been very little research done. This is an appropriate area where the federal parliament could play a pivotal role in coordinating that research across Australia. As the member for Parramatta said, to have a proper system of reporting asbestos related diseases and then tracking them is very important for identifying the causes. Bear in mind that we are talking about not simply workers, but their families. There have been several cases now where wives who have washed the clothes of workers have themselves contracted the disease. It is an issue that affects the whole community.

I was concerned that the government does not appear to support ratification of ILO 162. It is regrettable indeed, because that is an important treaty which, if ratified, requires the federal government to introduce national laws and regulations applying to the use of asbestos in industry, the removal of asbestos, the disposal of asbestos and the release of air borne particles from industry which can clearly affect the community generally. It is an important treaty and, as the member for McMillan said, we are extremely disappointed at the lack of interest this government has in progressing the ratification of that treaty. I note that only the South Australian and Queensland governments have so far taken steps to ratify it, although I have been informed by personal correspondence from the Hon. Jeff Shaw, the New South Wales Attorney-General and Minister for Labour, that the New South Wales government intends to take those steps.

I can contrast this government's attitude with the success and empathy that the New South Wales Labor government has had for those involved in the work force and who have contributed to the wealth of the nation by literally and finally giving their health. Under the New South Wales Workers Compensation Legislation Amendment (Dust Diseases and Other Matters) Act, the New South Wales government has provided some very practical measures whereby time limits which previously precluded workers from claiming compensation have been abolished. Bearing in mind the long gestation period of this disease, those measures overcome those complexities.

They have provided for the survival of general damages claims even after the death of workers so that their families do not suffer, and also taken practical steps regarding the re-use of evidence from one proceeding into another proceeding which has significantly reduced the cost of litigation to the individual parties and also the cost of justice to the community as a whole.

There is a marked contrast with what a New South Wales Labor government has done for the benefit of workers and their families who have given so much to the productivity of the state and the nation, when compared to the blase attitude of this Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business. The contrast could not be any more stark in an area where there should be compassion and recognition of the tremendous sacrifice made by Australian workers to this nation and what should have been done to protect them. These things will only come out with appropriate national recognition and inquiry.(Time expired)