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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4780

National Broadband Network


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:10): My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind her that her government has committed some $50 million to advertising the National Broadband Network. Does the Prime Minister agree that this $50 million could have been better spent ensuring that communities in Western Sydney, Ballarat, Adelaide, Perth and Tasmania were protected from exposure to asbestos resulting from the National Broadband Network rollout?


Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:10): The Leader of the Opposition: I am a little bit surprised that he would choose to play politics with this because, as he well knows, this is a matter involving pits and ducts and those pits and ducts are the responsibility of Telstra. The Leader of the Opposition well knows that, but has chosen to play politics with this important matter nevertheless. I suppose we really should not be surprised, given that this is the same person who insulted Bernie Banton on his deathbed. We should not be surprised at all.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr Dutton: Why is this scripted?

The SPEAKER: Order! The member for Dixon—that behaviour is disgraceful. The Prime Minister has the call and has the right to be heard in silence.

Ms GILLARD: Certainly playing politics with this matter is disgraceful. As I said last week in this parliament, if the Leader of the Opposition had chosen to listen, the health and safety of the community and workers is always paramount. We all know what a dangerous material asbestos is. We know that from the legacy of Wittenoom and the like. We as a government therefore take this matter very, very seriously. We expect Telstra and its contractors to follow the very strict laws we have in this country, and have for good reason, in relation to the handling and removal of asbestos.

As I said initially in answer to this question, we are talking about infrastructure pits and ducts owned by Telstra. It is its responsibility to get them ready for the NBN rollout in a safe and secure way. So concerned have we been about this matter that ministers Shorten and Conroy have invited Telstra and NBN Co. executives, Comcare, the Office of Asbestos Safety, unions and asbestos safety and victims groups to meet in Canberra today to agree on the next steps required in response to this matter. At the meeting, the government has been seeking from Telstra details of its safety and removal program, and specifically a commitment to remove asbestos from the high-risk pits.

Already the government regulator, Comcare, has stopped work and ordered asbestos removed from two sites in New South Wales. The government is also looking to establish a national register to keep a record of people, be they workers or members of the general public, who think that they have been exposed to asbestos.

The government is very conscious of how serious a matter this is. Consequently, the two ministers have been meeting with Telstra and others today to emphasise the government's desire that Telstra get on with the job. (Time expired.)