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Friday, 25 November 2011
Page: 9719

Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (17:05): I pay tribute to Bronwen Meredith, a human rights activist who passed away on 19 November. Born in Hobart in 1919 and raised in a Quaker family, Bronwen Meredith learnt the values of tolerance, peace and justice from an early age. Educated at the Friends' School, she ran a Junior League of Nations as a student, with talks and discussions about the role of the League of Nations in peace making and social justice issues. In 1938, she attended the Philip Smith Teachers College to train as a teacher and also studied for her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Tasmania.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Just wait a minute, Senator Singh. Senators in the chamber, Senator Singh is talking about a very serious matter. I believe she is entitled to be heard in silence regardless of the issue, but it is a sensitive issue.

Senator SINGH: She married her husband, Richard, in 1945 and together they became interested in prison reform, actively working to oppose the death penalty of a young man. In 1956, Bronwen and her husband moved to Papua New Guinea, where they both taught at a mission school. They took their five children, Heather, Stephen, Richard, Timothy and Jillian. They returned to Hobart in 1961, where Bronwen did a library course and worked at New Town High School for 10 years.

I first met Bronwen at a meeting in Hobart of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, of which I am a member. Bronwen joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom in Tasmania in 1963. One of the first campaigns she became involved with in WILPF was opposing French nuclear testing in the Pacific and then, during the Vietnam War, she and her husband assisted young men facing the draft. She became the first Secretary of WILPF in 1970 and was also involved in conducting a branch of Amnesty International at that time. In 1967, Bronwen attended an international Quaker conference in North Carolina and spent six weeks at a Quaker office in New York. While there she summarised the attitude to the Vietnam War of members of the United Nations organisa­tion, as expressed by the General Assembly. This summary was printed and presented to the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam. In 1973, concern for Indigenous people moved Bronwen and her husband to join the Commonwealth service in the Northern Territory. They taught in government schools in Darwin and Katherine for seven years.

Bronwen and her husband moved to England in 1981, where she became active in both Amnesty International and the UK branch of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. In 1986, Bronwen became the National Secretary of WILPF and was President of the Religious Society of Friends in Australia for four years. She joined me in speaking out against the war in Iraq in Hobart on the International Day of Action in 2003, and was regarded as an active and valued member of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. I know she will be greatly missed and my thoughts are with her family.

Monday marked the beginning of Asbestos Awareness Week. Australia carries the burden of one of the highest rates of asbestos related disease in the world, with nearly 10,000 recorded cases of mesothelioma since records began in the 1980s. Although the dangers of asbestos have been known for years, the long period between exposure and the onset of symptoms means that the diagnosis of asbestos related disease is expected to increase until at least the year 2018. While the dangers have been known for many years, we will continue to pay the price of exposure all those years ago for some time to come. Sadly, a very real concern now is that this will continue well into the future as we face a third wave of asbestos related disease as people unwittingly expose themselves to asbestos through DIY home renovations and the like.

I was pleased that, as part of Asbestos Awareness Week, both the ABC's 7:30 and Channel 10's The Project featured stories this week on asbestos and the very real risks associated with its exposure. Both these programs tackled the issue of DIY home renovation and the dangers associated with the unsafe removal and disposal of asbestos.

I was particularly saddened to hear the story of the Sager family, who lost their 25-year-old son, Adam, to mesothelioma. His parents, Julie and Don, told of Adam being exposed while they were renovating their family home in the 1980s. Adam would play in the dust that they did not know was dangerous at the time and that they never could have imagined would result in his devastating death.

Sadly, I fear we are at risk of hearing many more stories such as Adam's in the decades to come. I spoke in this place just last sitting about the obligation DIY renovation TV programs have to the Australian public and that they must highlight the dangers of asbestos during the broadcast of these shows. Education is vital, and we must make people who are renovating aware that if their home is more than 30 years old the chances are it will contain asbestos. We must educate people that asbestos can and will kill them, and that due care must be taken.

Given this week is Asbestos Awareness Week, I congratulate all those who are out there doing everything they can to raise awareness of this deadly carcinogen. There are many important groups, researchers, medical professionals, removalists and advocates, all working hard to educate the Australian public and support those living with asbestos related diseases, and seeking to effect change in places such as this. Their work is vital and it is very much appreciated. I also thank them very much for joining me this Tuesday, here in Parliament House, for the launch of the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease by me and my co-chair Russell Broadbent, with guest speaker Matt Peacock, a journalist who has been reporting on asbestos and its effects for the last 30 years.

I also learnt this week that the Cancer Council in Victoria will this week launch an easy-to-read information booklet about mesothelioma, and I have no doubt that it will be appreciated by the many people who may be diagnosed in the years to come.

The Gillard Labor government is also working to ensure people are not needlessly exposed to asbestos. In October last year the Asbestos Management Review was established and it will provide recommen­dations to government on the development of a national plan to improve asbestos aware­ness and management. I pass on my thanks to all of those people involved in this area and encourage them to continue their work and their fight to raise awareness and support those with asbestos related disease.

Finally, I was recently fortunate to visit Goodwood Primary School in the electorate of Denison. The school was established in 1955 and currently has around 95 students. What I learnt about Goodwood Primary School during my visit is that 85 of those students have iPads, which are distributed across all of the grades. I hope that soon schools in other parts of Tasmania will also have access to iPads.

These iPads were purchased using the federal government's National Partnership Low SES Plan funding. Goodwood Primary School is the only primary school in Tasmania that has this educational tool—the iPad—available to all its students, and it was just wonderful to see these young students using their iPads in an educational way to make movies, to take photos and to write notes. They used them in a wide range of ways and for a wide range of purposes. We live in a very much technologically focused time, and the advantage these children will have over those who do not have access to such recent technology will no doubt brighten their future.

Not only are the students benefiting but the participation of parents in the school has also increased from five per cent to 25 per cent, and the school believes the sole reason is the introduction of the iPads. Students and their parents are rightly proud that their school is the first and only primary school in Tasmania to have instigated this program. I congratulate Goodwood Primary School on its efforts to equip their students with a bright future and to engage with the parents of their school. I hope to see more Tasmanian schools consider introducing iPads to their classrooms as an educational tool. Finally, I would also just like to wish you, Mr President, the Deputy President, senators, the Clerk and Deputy Clerk, officers and all the Senate staff here a restful Christmas break and a happy new year. Thank you for welcoming me into my beginning term here in the Senate.