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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5067

National Broadband Network


Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (14:26): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I remind him that, by his own admission, he wrote to Telstra in 2009 to urge the proactive replacement of every asbestos-contaminated pit in Australia. What advice did the minister receive from Telstra regarding the health and safety risks of this proposal? Did he receive advice that his proposal involved greater safety risks than leaving intact and undamaged pits in place?


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:27): I thank the member for Wentworth for his question. But I have to say, what a glass jaw this fellow has got. Yesterday, he ran an argument saying we were not doing enough and today, because he has opened the book on asbestos for the first time, he is saying, 'You shouldn't do this; you shouldn't do that.' Now we have a debate about duelling opinions on the best way to treat asbestos. What a glass jaw. Yesterday, we know what was raised about asbestos. I would love to have thought it was about the residents of Penrith.

Mr Turnbull: Madam Speaker, on a point of order: could you remind the minister he is not in a North Carlton pie shop and he should return to the question.

The SPEAKER: The member for Wentworth is abusing points of order and will leave the chamber under standing order 94(a). The continual abuse of points of order will not be tolerated. My sense is guided by the standing orders.

The member for Wentworth then left the chamber.

The SPEAKER: The minister has the call.

Mr Tudge interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Aston will leave the chamber under standing order 94(a). The member for Canning can wave his arms all he likes or we can actually have appropriate behaviour in accordance with the standing orders.

The member for Aston then left the chamber.

Mr SHORTEN: Little did I know when I said 'glass jaw' that he would so quickly prove my statement.

The SPEAKER: The minister will return to the question.

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting

The SPEAKER: No, it is not okay, Deputy Leader of the Opposition. If, for once, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition was listening as opposed to talking, she may have heard that I was actually bringing the minister back to the question.

Mr SHORTEN: I have been asked a question about competing methods for dealing with the threat of asbestos. I am pleased to answer that question because this government has got a proud record. This government, in fact, is a world leader.

Nothing excuses Telstra's failure to deliver up to the promises and undertakings it has made to the community. Again, I wish to put on record that I recognise that the CEO of Telstra has shown leadership, as opposed to a small target, by indeed offering his acceptance of responsibility.

But I have been asked about what the best way forward is in terms of dealing with asbestos. I do not resile from the view that the best way to deal with asbestos is not in the long term to leave it in the ground. But on this side we stand for the eventual eradication of asbestos. Asbestos kills people; it kills 700 people a year—it is a dreadful substance, and the people who have produced it over the years have done this in the full knowledge, in my opinion, of the risks it presented.

But if you want to change health and safety, it does take time. There are a lot of people who need to be brought along the path of making Australia's workplaces safer. In my experience it is particularly difficult to change the health and safety direction of large corporations. It is slow and difficult; otherwise it would have happened many years ago. What you have to do is alert them—that is what this government has done—you have to identify the issues, you have to seed ideas into them and you have to put forward suggestions on what should be done. It needs to be done at the highest level. That is what this government has done.

But, indeed, you not only need to challenge organisations—and they normally respond in my experience, as Telstra did: 'We've got it under control'. But then what has happened is that this government has initiated a review of asbestos, we have acted on the recommendations and we have set up the first agency to create a national approach. This government has done a lot, and I have to say that it is a sad day when otherwise respectable members of the opposition seek to tarnish their own reputations by turning this into a political issue.

Asbestos should be a bipartisan issue, and even though he is not in the chamber I extend to the member for Wentworth the opportunity to work with us on how to make asbestos safe, because it does not matter how you take and challenge those pits that are there; under anyone's policy on telcos, if you open one of those pits in the wrong way you will hurt people and you will damage them, and that is what we must fight jointly. (Time expired)










Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:31): Madam Speaker, I rise to ask a supplementary question of the minister. Given the advice the minister received that disturbing these asbestos pits would be dangerous, what advice did he give the government as it moved toward doing just that through the rollout of the National Broadband Network?


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:32): Oh my goodness! The Luddites have taken over the asylum here!

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will return to the question! The minister is warned: abuse at this dispatch box will not be tolerated.

Mr SHORTEN: If you go through the flat-earth theory we just heard, we should never do any infrastructure work in this country because, under the opposition's simplistic understanding of asbestos, we just leave it there and never tackle the issue.

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister was asked: given the information he had from 2009, what advice did he give the government as a cabinet minister about the National Broadband Network, which was about to do exactly what he had been warned against doing two years previously? It is not a—

The SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order. The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat.

Mr SHORTEN: I appreciate the Manager of Opposition Business in the House of Reps promoting me from parl. sec. to cabinet in 2009. But in terms of what goes on—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: But in terms of the issues, I appreciate a question from the opposition on health and safety, and I particularly appreciate it on asbestos from the Leader of the Opposition. The historians in this chamber and listening may be interested to know that until this week the Leader of the Opposition has never raised a question on asbestos in the parliament. But I can say that, when it comes to dealing with asbestos, we take the advice of our regulators. We are the ones who have created a national agency. We are the ones who have done a national plan.

This is in stark contrast to what happens when the coalition get power. We all know what happens then: it is reported today in Fairfax that the then minister for workplace relations, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, rejected a plan to speed up asbestos compensation. Strike 1, 2001!

Then we have a situation when there was a proposition about putting in a drug which would support asbestos victims in their suffering—

Mr Hockey: How is this relevant, Madam Speaker?

Mr Dutton: Relevance!

Mr SHORTEN: They know where this is going, don't they?

The SPEAKER: The minister will return to the question—

Mr SHORTEN: The opposition leader, when he was in—

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will return to the question!

Mr SHORTEN: The opposition leader, when he was in power, would not deal with helping and easing the suffering of asbestos victims. And when Bernie Banton— (Time expired)















Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (14:34): Madam Speaker, I rise with a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that he took no further action on possible asbestos contamination, even though he knew that millions of contaminated pits were going to be disturbed as part of the National Broadband Network rollout?


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:34): Goodness me, I love a lecture from this pack of hypocrites opposite—

The SPEAKER: Order! The minister will return to the question!

Mr SHORTEN: The reason why the question is such a hypocritical question is that, unfortunately, there is always a record of what goes before you. And what I have here—

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. Firstly, he should withdraw the phrase that he used, which is unparliamentary. Secondly, at least four or five of my colleagues have been thrown out today without a warning. You have warned the minister and he should be ejected from the House.

The SPEAKER: The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. They were abuses of points of order and not adhering to standing order 65(b). The minister is answering a question; I will ask him to refer to the question before the chair. I am just going to explain: the word used can be considered or not considered unparliamentary, but I will ask the minister to withdraw.

Mr SHORTEN: I am happy to withdraw. What I should have said is that it is a trifle inconsistent on a professional basis from those opposite when they say, 'Well, the member for Maribyrnong contacted Telstra a number of times and insisted on finding out what was going on, and Telstra said they had it under control'. When he has become the minister—when I have become the minister—we have acted on the review, which was initiated by my predecessors. And we are the first government ever to act; we are the first government to put in an asbestos agency. We have moved very quickly when we were notified of the problems—and our Comcare regulator has been there in the last six to eight weeks as complaints have come in.

But on this startling idea for those opposite, who have never paid attention to asbestos generally—although there are a few notable exceptions opposite, I should be fair—in 2006 Mr McGauran, the then member for Gippsland, responded to the late member for Calare, Mr Andren, when he was asked a number of questions about asbestos, and the then government, the coalition government of short memory, went through it and said, 'Yes, the Telstra network'—this is at point 2 in the Hansard, which the opposition did not bother getting out because they like to pretend that this discovery about Telstra is new—

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order. The Practice makes it quite clear. Perhaps under the old standing orders tangential information may have been in order but this has to be directly relevant to the question, and all the bluster in the world and all the shouting do not make it relevant.

The SPEAKER: The member for Mackellar will resume her seat. She may have observed my adherence to abuses of points of order. The minister has the call.

Mr SHORTEN: The number of interjections opposite do not change one truth. In 2006 a coalition minister wrote to Mr Andren:

The Telstra network still contains pits … containing—

(Time expired)