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Thursday, 29 March 1979
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Mr HUNT - The honourable member would know that there has been considerable publicity recently on diseases amongst some Australian workers, alleged to have been caused by asbestos. The prevention and control of asbestos as a health hazard is of course a matter for State governments but the National Health and Medical Research Council has the matter under active consideration. Indeed it has produced a number of publications and they include 'The Model Asbestos Regulations'; 'Occupational Health Guide on Asbestos'; 'Membrane Filter Method for Estimating Airborne Asbestos Dust'; 'A Recommended Code of Practice for the Handling of Consignments of Asbestos Fibre in Australian Ports and Container Terminals'; and 'A Code for the Handling of Asbestos by Small Users'.

Of course some considerable concern, has been expressed by people, as the honourable member for Petrie observed in his question, that perhaps fibro-asbestos houses could endanger health. The National Health and Medical Research Council has said that no evidence has been established that such exposure presents a definite risk to health. Indeed the National Health and Medical Research Council has given assurances, in the light of present knowledge, that the risk of non-occupational exposure to asbestos is considered extremely low. I would have to say from that advice that there is a very low health risk. However, I have asked the Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council urgently to constitute the ad hoc sub-committee on asbestos and to expedite its inquiry into the commercial use of asbestos and its possible effect on health. There is too much concern in the community at present -

Mr Young - You set it up last August. It has not met yet.

Mr HUNT - I realise that and I have asked the Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council to expedite the establishment of the Committee and its review and to report as soon as possible. I will report to the Parliament as soon as that sub-committee has reported to me. I believe there is much anxiety which may not be founded on proper and reasonable grounds. The sooner we have a proper objective assessment of the allegations that are abroad the better for all concerned.

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