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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 749


Mr HUSIC (11:10 AM) —At the outset, I welcome the fact that the member for Murray has brought this resolution forward and has sought to put a spotlight on what would be a matter of concern to a large number of people. I was particularly moved by the points she raised in relation to Vanessa. It would be difficult not only to have to deal with that situation of the loss of two young lives but, on top of that, to have overlaid the suggestion of wrongdoing. I note that the member for Murray made reference to the fact that they maintained a dignified silence. I think many people in similar situations would be sorely tested to have to deal with two compounding and compelling issues: (1) the deaths and (2) the suggestion of something that was inappropriate.

I was going to make reference to smoke detectors. In my home state of New South Wales it is now, as a result of state legislation, compulsory to fit homes with smoke detectors, because it has been the silent killer of many that they have been unaware that their homes have been on fire and, as a result of carbon monoxide, they have been unable to respond to that fatal incident occurring in their homes.

It is interesting to note that there has not been any significant work done to study emissions that occur within homes and whether or not those homes are able to, through design, ensure adequate ventilation. I know that we are talking about detection and response, but another silent killer is the way in which homes have been constructed over the years and the way in which certain designs would, for example, encourage the retention of certain emissions that, of themselves, would cause harm over time.

It has been brought to my attention that the CSIRO has been involved and that there has been a study conducted through the Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research. It was probably the first study done in Australia—because there had been no extensive studies of indoor air quality—to look at typical dwellings in Australia and to determine whether or not those dwellings are having an impact on the retention of certain emissions within homes. In particular, they found that, in the construction of homes that have garages connected with indoor access, the emissions themselves are higher because of, basically, the movement and retention of those emissions within homes, particularly during the morning hours between seven and eight, when obviously you have people departing for work, school or other activities and the operation of vehicles so close to those premises ensures the retention of those emissions within indoor premises. It is worth noting as well that this study was conducted over the winter of 2008, and there was further follow-up with a number of homes—40, off the top of my head—in 2009. So it is a relatively recent study which it has been important to conduct. They observed a number of pollutants—not just carbon monoxide but formaldehyde amongst others. They said that the concentration of indoor air pollutants observed in the study is comparable with concentrations observed in previous studies in Australia.

There were a number of purposes to the study. The first was to determine indoor air quality in typical dwellings. The second was to determine whether or not the proximity of dwellings to busy roads has an influence on indoor air quality. They selected two sets of dwellings—‘near road’ and ‘far road’. A number of statistical analyses were carried out to determine whether that had an influence. It was found that the only pollutants were closer to busy roads, which resulted in enhanced concentrations.

The third purpose of the study related to indoor quality, particularly with reference to the characteristics of the dwelling, the materials and indoor activities, with a particular focus on whether or not ventilation systems within homes were aiding by being able to get rid of those pollutants that were considered to have health impacts. It was noted—and obviously common sense would dictate this as well—that over the course of time, as architecture and home design have improved, with a focus on reducing the impact of heat and cold on homes, that has led to a focus on improving ventilation in homes. Over time, compared to older dwellings, there has been a propensity for newer homes to be able to expel those air pollutants, but it is still an issue.

I think a lot of people would be motivated by the concerns that the member for Murray has brought forward. I acknowledge that in her contribution today she has seen that a lot of this is state based and that is where the focus will need to be. However, I also recognise that in the mechanisms put forward by Dr Stone—sorry, the member for Murray; taking on board your previous advice to us, Mr Deputy Speaker—there is a need to determine how we are able to encourage national cooperation on this. Certainly a way that we can move forward is through the auspices of COAG. I think the issue will be determining how—obviously, given the number of national-state issues that are being coordinated through that forum—we are able to best progress on that.

However, I think it is important, and I certainly commend the fact, as I said at the beginning, that this has been brought forward. Frankly, with the construction of this new parliament and particularly with the changes to the standing orders, we need to take the opportunity to raise issues that, while they may be in local or state jurisdictions, have a national impact—and certainly this is one of those areas where that is the case—and then to determine the way in which we are able to progress on those issues. I am sure that in most households—and certainly in the electorate of Chifley, which I represent, where there are a blend of newer and older style premises—people would have concerns about whether or not indoor air pollutants are being trapped in this way.

The other thing to note, too, is that there are variations across states in heating. For example—and I take it that this is the case in rural Victoria—it is certainly the case, as I know from my previous experience working with an energy distributor, that on the south coast of New South Wales they do not necessarily have reticulated gas but will rely on bottled gas. Having said that, the network itself is one thing; another—and this was raised by the member for Murray—is the connections in the home, whether or not they are up to standard and whether or not they have been checked. These things need to be followed up. There is definitely merit in following up the issue that was raised by the member for Murray about national awareness campaigns as well.

It really comes down to how we progress this at a national level within COAG. The issue for us is seeing how we coordinate amongst states to deal with this issue, given that the relevant department at the federal level, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, does not have the statutory power in regard to fitting the detectors. The department has funded research in the past on the health effects of air quality in homes with unflued gas heaters. Those heaters—and it is acknowledged—pose a risk of elevated levels of indoor pollutants, including carbon monoxide. I think the challenge has been thrown out by the member for Murray: how do we coordinate national action on this and encourage states to move on this in the way that they have with the fitting of smoke detectors? I will limit my remarks to those. Certainly, as I said earlier, there is a challenge that needs to be met in this area and in seeing we respond to this resolution.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—The honourable member has had very close to his 10 minutes. There was a problem with the clock, so it did not start until a minute and a half into your speech.