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Thursday, 30 May 2013
Page: 4698

Mr MELHAM (Banks) (16:22): I rise to support the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Bill 2013. The bill provides for the establishment of a national agency, known as the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, as recommended by the Asbestos Management Review report of June 2012. In the time allowed, I do not propose to go through the details of the bill; they are a matter of public record. What I will say is this: asbestos diseases impact on all of us. We have relatives who have been affected, we have friends who have been affected—and it is not just now; it is going to happen well into the future.

We see these home renovation shows on television. Not all of them give the warning that needs to be given: before you bust open a ceiling or a wall, you should check for asbestos. If you do not know what you are doing, that is going to result in asbestos diseases into the future. We need an education program and we need those television shows to give warnings about these matters. My brother is a carpenter. He can build a house from scratch. We have asbestos in our house in Panania and, when he did some stuff to it recently, he covered himself from head to toe, because he understood what he had to deal with.

That is true in the suburbs that I represent in south-western Sydney, in Hurstville and the Bankstown region along the Georges River, because those fibro houses all contain asbestos. The club of which I am proud to be president, the Revesby Workers Club, has 57,000 members spread around the region, and many of them have been affected by asbestos. Indeed, the immediate past president of the Revesby Workers Club, Pat Rogan, a former state member for East Hills, has recently been diagnosed with asbestos on the lung. My club, in celebrating its 50th anniversary last year, had a book commissioned. It cost us $68; we are selling it at $20 a copy. All that money is going to the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, a voluntary organisation that specialises in raising awareness in this area. To date we have raised $10,000 for that organisation.

Beyond that, I was invited to an open day and morning tea at Concord by Armando Gardiman, a friend of mine who is a partner in Turner Freeman, to look at the Asbestos Diseases Research Institute at Concord. Armando helped set that institute up. He got a government grant, but it has not had any government grants, as I understand it, since it was formed. It has basically been relying on grants from community organisations, and I know that my club—I can give this assurance to the House—will be doing something in relation to giving money to this research institute. And I know that the research that has been undertaken, which we were briefed on and on which we were asked to maintain confidentiality—they are doing very, very good work.

I said we were personally affected, all of us if we research it. I lost a first cousin 18 months ago to asbestos. He was 33 years of age. His father was an electrician working in the Snowy Mountains area when my cousin was a baby. My cousin played with his father's clothes when his father came home. This is the way he was diagnosed: he was at a basketball game in January or February and he was hit in the stomach with a basketball and suffered great pain. It took a number of months to finally find out what was wrong with him. He was in the final stages, but he had a 15-hour operation and he died from an infection. I say that because it was not just that death that made me aware of asbestos. What that event did was shock me as to how easy it is to get a disease, even at a young age. Normally it is in the older stages of a person's life, because they have been an electrician et cetera, that they suffer from this disease. What we have found over time is that women, wives, have been affected as well.

What is pleasing about this is that both sides of the House are supporting this bill. It is the responsibility of government to assist in these areas, to facilitate. You do not need to be personally affected. And I know the minister at the table, the member for Maribyrnong, has been passionate about this because he has had knowledge of this insidious thing for a long, long time. I have met with people, just ordinary tradespeople. This is not going away; it is actually going to get worse over time. We found out today in parliament about the situation in relation to the rolling out of the NBN and asbestos in Telstra pits. This stuff is everywhere because we did not know about it at the time, and it has been rolled out. It is a time bomb ticking in relation to any citizen. That is why I opened my remarks by cautioning these home renovators—you know, do-it-yourself renovations that are basically not bad ratings on television but have the potential to encourage people to engage in behaviour that could subsequently affect them and their health.

We cannot stop this happening if we do nothing. We are on notice as to how someone can be impacted in relation to asbestos, and that is why I say to the House: this is a good bill to support and send the right message unanimously to whoever is in government and to ensure that we actually build on this. We have an obligation to try to educate and to protect our citizens. No matter how much we are affected or that we know someone who has been affected, there are people out there who are unknowingly walking around with this danger. It is like walking on a landmine in relation to this stuff.

I do commend the bill to the House. I am pleased it has cross-party support, as it should. I do not think that was ever in doubt, in fairness. I see that the member for Riverina has just given me $20 to purchase a copy of the book. Of course, I have a book which I will give you, and I am happy to do it for other members. It is not a bad read, by the way, about the local community. The more important thing is not just its history but the fact that, with a bit of money towards research, we can be confident that we will find a way to stop this thing from growing inside people's bodies. The real key is to try and stop the growth of this disease, to get the research to the stage where it can be stopped. I am quietly confident that, with the professionalism of the people at Concord, we will lead the world in treating this disease. St George Hospital is one of the finest hospitals in the world for assisting people who are diagnosed with this disease. I commend the bill to the House.