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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4782

National Broadband Network

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (14:17): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I remind him that since the NBN Co. agreed to use Telstra's ducts and pits in June 2011 the two companies have known asbestos could be a danger in the rollout. Concerned unions contacted NBN Co. about this issue in early 2011 and there have been at least a half dozen incidents reported in the press over the last year. Can the minister inform the House whether and, if so, on what occasions he has met with Telstra and NBN Co. regarding asbestos problems prior to last week? (Time expired)

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:17): I thank the member opposite for the question. I wrote to Telstra in 2009 to talk to them and to say that there were people reporting that there were problems with pits. Telstra wrote back and said they had the matter under control. We have seen in recent days and weeks that clearly they have not. I can report that I have been meeting with Telstra and other stakeholders today and, in fact, I went to Penrith on Saturday with the member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, who has been standing up for these residents.

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, on a point of order: the minister was asked, very pointedly, how many times he had met with Telstra before last week. That is the answer that we are looking for and nothing else.

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. Question time is not about the answers you are looking for; it is about ministers being relevant to the question. The minister has the call.

Mr SHORTEN: I should say also at the outset of this issue that the identification and eradication of asbestos in Australia is a priority for this government. I am pleased that the House of Representatives on a bipartisan basis passed the legislation less than an hour ago.

In terms of Telstra we have met with the CEO, David Thodey, and other people from his company, stakeholders including unions, including contractors, including the Chief Medical Officer and we went through the issues which have been widely reported in recent days. Telstra made it very clear at this meeting that they accepted that they have to do more. Telstra accepted, in matters going from inspection to training to education, that there had been deficiencies and that they needed to do more.

I am pleased to inform the House that Telstra, along with all the stakeholders, including victim support groups—I do not think I had mentioned they were there—agreed about the outcomes of this meeting we have just had. What was good was that we saw organisations taking the high road in terms of not seeking to blame but, rather, to accept responsibility. We saw that Telstra accepted responsibility for end-to-end training throughout the system, making sure that contractors and everyone working with pits and ducts were trained adequately in the safe handling of asbestos. Telstra also accepted the need to do much better in terms of respecting the anxieties of the community, particularly those in Penrith and Ballarat—the member for Ballarat was also with us at the meeting—but not just them. I congratulate the CEO of Telstra on the way he conducted himself in the meeting. Indeed, in the discussions that we had there was a recognition that Telstra and stakeholders—in particular, contractors—needed to do better than they have been doing, because asbestos is a real scourge in the Australian community.

It is estimated that one in three houses built between the end of World War II and the late 1980s would have asbestos within them. Asbestos was widely used in Australia and we have the highest per capita incidence of asbestos related diseases. It is a problem which the labour movement has been tackling for generations. It is a problem that the labour movement wishes we could uninvent. (Time expired)

Mr Turnbull: Madam Speaker, just a point of order: could the minister please table the letter he referred to?

The SPEAKER: Was the minister reading from a document?

Mr Turnbull: No, he referred to a letter that he wrote.

The SPEAKER: All I can refer to is documents he was reading from. I cannot ask for tablings of anything else besides his notes.

Mr Turnbull: He might want to table it, if he is so concerned about it.

The SPEAKER: Given the debate, that was unwarranted.

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker—

The SPEAKER: Manager of Opposition Business: I am not going to enter into points of order.