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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 922


Ms SAFFIN (Page) (19:59): I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that as National Asbestos Awareness Week is formally recognised, it makes earnest representation to the Government to continue to call on Canada to ratify the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention on Prior Informed Consent;

(2) recognises the proactive actions of the Australian Government in mitigating the possible spread of asbestos related diseases through continuing bans on the production and use of asbestos as well as strict controls on the removal and disposal of existing material;

(3) commends the Australian Government on a number of measures that have been put into place to manage and compensate the victims of asbestos related diseases which include:

(a) the recent ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Asbestos Convention, as one of the first ILO Conventions to be ratified by the Commonwealth Government since 2006;

(b) Australian leadership on a strong closing declaration by 66 countries at the 2011 Conference of the Rotterdam Convention, which expressed deep concern that the listing of chrysotile asbestos had been prevented by a small number of parties and resolved to move forward to list chrysotile asbestos in Annex III;

(c) the $5 million grant made to support the Asbestos Disease Research Institute Bernie Banton Centre;

(d) funding for the new Australian Mesothelioma Registry, which was launched in 2010 to gather more detailed and accurate information on mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases;

(e) support for the harmonisation of health and safety legislation which will provide, for the first time, a uniform framework for the minimisation of exposure, the removal of asbestos, and the management asbestos materials in the workplace;

(f) the establishment of the Asbestos Management Review in late 2010 to recommend strategies for the development of a national strategic plan to improve asbestos awareness, management and removal;

(g) the loan agreement with the NSW Government to ensure asbestos victims and their families continue to receive payments through the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund; and

(h) the $1.5 million Comcare Asbestos Innovation Fund which sponsors programs and research to prevent and better manage asbestos exposure, as well as improve treatment for asbestos-disease sufferers;

(4) notes the unwelcome inheritance that asbestos has left on the Australian community, which sees Australian citizens suffering one of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases in the world, with the effects of asbestos mining still being suffered by many, mostly Indigenous and past employees of James Hardie's operation at Baryulgil in the electoral division of Page, and the poor health and mortality they and their families suffer;

(5) extends its profound sympathies to all individuals suffering asbestos-related diseases as well as their friends and families and the friends and families of those who have passed away as a result of asbestos-related diseases;

(6) notes the current and potential damage that imported asbestos is creating to the people in the Asia Pacific region where, despite these well documented health risks, it remains an attractive commodity due to its low cost compared to other comparable building material;

(7) calls upon the Canadian Government to recognise the potentially catastrophic health and social implications of Canada's production and sale of asbestos and products containing asbestos to these lower socio-economic markets; and

(8) supports the Australian Government in using strong diplomatic efforts to convince the Canadian Government to cease both production and trade in asbestos.

I first gave notice of this motion during National Asbestos Awareness Week, but because of the way in which the business of the House is conducted it has only just now come up for debate. I am pleased that it is now before the House and that people from all sides are listed to speak on it.

The mining of asbestos is akin to subjecting workers to a possible death sentence, as is the export of asbestos. It is something that I simply cannot understand, with the knowledge that we have, as I cannot understand why some countries continue to mine and export it. Canada and Russia are on the list of supporters of the asbestos trade. There is actually a town called Asbestos in Canada and a town called Asbest in Russia, the latter being something I have previously raised in this House.

It is hard to know where to start, because so much needs to be done and so much needs to be said. There is the matter of the large amounts of asbestos we have in our public and private buildings and indeed in our own homes. Home renovators are more at risk than ever because so many people are now doing home renovations; it is a popular and good thing to do, but some people would not even be aware they are dealing with asbestos. Domestic residences or premises are also largely unregulated, although there are some regulations in that area.

At a national level all types of asbestos are banned for use in Australia. Further, since 2003 it has been illegal to import, store, supply, sell or use such materials. The management of asbestos and related issues is a matter for each jurisdiction in our federal system. There are health and safety aspects and workplace issues within respective jurisdictions. There are laws at state and territory levels about the handling and removal of asbestos and strict penalties for noncompliance. However, there are some gaps across all jurisdictions.

The New South Wales Ombudsman prepared a report entitled Responding to the asbestos problem: the need for significant reform in New South Wales, dated November 2010. The report stated:

… there is no single government agency responsible for coordinating the management and containment of asbestos … there are gaps in asbestos legislation and funding to deal with these issues is inadequate.

The report further pointed out that local government was the first point of contact for the community and said that many lacked knowledge and understanding of their role in the regulation of asbestos. I can understand that, but we all have to come to grips with this massive problem that really is of epidemic proportions. I want to say that I am not targeting a particular state or territory jurisdiction. It is just that New South Wales is the state I live in and the one that I read most about.

I would also like to add that when Councillor Jenny Dowell, the Mayor of Lismore City Council, saw that I had this matter listed for debate she sent me an email saying that it was 'excellent' that I had done so. She said:

Local government is at the forefront of managing approvals for the removal and disposal of asbestos. From time to time we are faced with illegal dumping et cetera but the biggest impact is that of disease and death for workers and the thousands of home renovators.

That was the point at which I started. I further note that the Ombudsman's report stated that it looked at 152 council websites and found no consistency in the information provided to the public. Again, I can understand that this is a difficult area.

My motion lists a whole range of things. Firstly, and importantly, it notes the occurrence of National Asbestos Week, which has now passed but which was current when I gave notice of the motion. It recognises the proactive actions of the Australian government in this area and commends the Australian government for a number of really good measures that have been put in place. We are tackling this nationally. It also needs to be done at state level. Some of the occupational health legislation can help in that area. There is also the international aspect, because we know that asbestos is mined in various places. We know that its use is still huge in the Asia-Pacific region, which is our region, and that asbestos is exported.

I would like to commend the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease that was set up in this place. A lot of members on all sides take part in that, including ministers and shadow ministers. We all attend because we know that this is something we really have to grapple with. I commend Senator Lisa Singh for setting up that group and also the honourable member for McMillan, who supports this group. When he spoke on the night on which the group met he thanked Senator Singh—giving credit where credit was due, in that it was her initiative. The guest speaker was journalist/writer Matt Peacock, who is a leading light in bringing to public attention the dangers of asbestos. Decades ago he published material on this matter, including on the problems associated with asbestos at the James Hardie mine in Baryulgil, in my seat of Page. There was considerable trauma and disease, and that is ongoing, because asbestos problems are not something that disappear overnight. As recently as 8 November 2011 Matt Peacock reported a telling and deadly documentary on Foreign Correspondent about India's use and importation of asbestos from Canada. So my motion lays out some of the good action that has been taken and will continue to be taken. It really speaks for itself. We are also working to get a lot of areas in order. There was a loan agreement with New South Wales—and I pay tribute to the honourable member for Charlton, who did a lot to bring that to the public's attention and who helped to make that happen; there were funds for the Asbestos Disease Research Institute; and there was the ratification of the ILO Convention concerning Safety in the Use of Asbestos and the leadership regarding the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade.

I support a worldwide ban on asbestos—full stop. It is just something that needs to be left in the ground. I note that in some countries where they say it is asbestos free, if there is a one per cent inclusion of asbestos in it, they can still have that branding on it. Some of the things that we need to continue to do are to raise awareness of asbestos hazards, build alliances with like-minded countries and pursue further restriction on asbestos by listing chrysotile asbestos in annex III of the Rotterdam convention. We also need to build capacity in developing countries, assist with developing domestic asbestos management regimes with the removal and lobby countries which oppose or do not actively support asbestos removal to change their positions.

At the ALP National Conference, where I was a delegate, we did a number of things to change the platform. We said we wanted Australia to continue to lead international calls for a global treaty to ban the use of and trade in asbestos. We will host an international conference in 2012, the Global Alliance Against the Asbestos Hazard, in collaboration with the ILO and other like-minded organisations, to build support for international action on asbestos. We also hope that AusAID can help develop an aid program which supports better education about the risks posed by asbestos.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Vamvakinou ): Is the motion seconded?