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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 930


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (20:30): I commend the member for Page for bringing this motion before the House. I also acknowledge the contributions made by all of the other speakers so far. It is good to see that this motion does have cross-party support.

In 2005, a memorial was unveiled at Pitman Park in the City of Salisbury in memory of the people who suffered or died from asbestos related illnesses. It was established by the Asbestos Victims Association of South Australia. Each year in November, a memorial service is held at the site and as part of the service a white wooden cross is placed in the ground adjacent to the memorial with the name of each of the people who have died because of asbestos since the Asbestos Victims Association began keeping records. Each year I attend the service; each year there are more white crosses in the ground.

In most cases, those who died did so from work related illness or family members who were indirectly exposed to the deadly asbestos fibres from the work clothes being brought home. Sadly, thousands more will die in the coming years even though, since 31 December 2003, it has been illegal in Australia to use, reuse or sell any products containing any form of asbestos. For many, it was too late. The fibres were in their bodies and they now face a slow and painful death from an insidious disease. What makes the issue more controversial is that asbestos continued to be used for well over 100 years after its dangers were first exposed. The owners of asbestos mines and those who manufactured asbestos products were not merely negligent—they knowingly promoted a dangerous product.

Thanks to the efforts of so many people around the world, the use of asbestos has now been banned in many countries. However, the asbestos fight is only the tip of the iceberg. Firstly, asbestos continues to be used in disadvantaged countries where people are poorly educated. Secondly, the asbestos story applies to many other commonly used products where manufacturers are aware of the risks but the evidence is inconclusive. From tobacco companies to chemical companies, and manufacturers of IT equipment, serious concerns have been raised about the long-term use of other commonly used products. At least with tobacco, the health warnings are very clear and for most people it is a matter of choice with the full knowledge of the risk.

The worldwide asbestos campaign is about the responsibilities of governments and regulators. It is about the ethics of industry. It is about justice and injustice. As with the life of the legendary cricketer Basil D'Oliveira, whom we debated in the House earlier today, where the more profound impact of his life was not on cricket but on the issue of racial discrimination, the asbestos campaign is about the exploitation of human life for greed and profit.

In respect to that, I join in the comments of other speakers that I too am astounded at the Canadian government's decision to refuse to allow the addition of chrysotile asbestos fibres to the Rotterdam Convention. Chrysotile asbestos, otherwise known as white asbestos, is a major export product of that country. Whilst I could understand a private company wanting to pursue its operations, I cannot understand a government being part of the export of that product. This is a point made in the newsletter of the Asbestos Victims Association of South Australia—that very same Canadian government that is agreeing to export this product is simultaneously removing asbestos from its 1928 parliamentary building. The convention is a multilateral treaty to promote shared responsibilities in relation to the importation of hazardous chemicals. Canada is the only G8 country objecting to the listing. I believe that this government ought to do what it can to encourage Canada to support the listing.

Lastly, I pay tribute and commend the work of Terry Miller, Kat Burge, Pam Sandys and Tony Henstridge who are the volunteers who man and support the Asbestos Victims Association in South Australia. Their tireless work in support of the victims, the victims' families, their advocacy against the use of asbestos and their community education and awareness campaigns are an absolute credit to them. From my experience of working with them and seeing what they do, their work is truly invaluable, and I thank them for it.