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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 753

Mr STEPHEN JONES (11:26 AM) —Can I begin by thanking the member for Murray for bringing this matter to the chamber. It is indeed both a tragedy and an opportunity, and I would like to add my voice to the sentiments that have been spoken before me by the member for Mallee and my colleague the member for Chifley. We join with all members of this place in mourning the tragic loss of Chase and Tyler Robinson, who died at Mooroopna on 30 May last year. It was a terrible tragedy for their parents, Vanessa and Scott Robinson. I take this opportunity to pass my condolences on to Scott and Vanessa, who I am sure are still grieving.

We know that Energy Safe Victoria examined the house and that police believe a gas leak was directly responsible for the tragic deaths of these young boys. Indeed, inspections have revealed a faulty gas appliance, possibly a heater, was responsible for these deaths. It really is regrettable that carbon monoxide poisoning only comes to national attention following a tragedy like this. I guess I am like every other Australian who only focused their attention on this issue after this terrible tragedy. I am also a father of two young children, and we have an unflued gas heater in our house. So we really do hope that some good can come from this terrible incident.

The problem with carbon monoxide is that you cannot see it and you cannot smell it, but at high levels it is deadly. We know that carbon monoxide is produced whenever any fuel such as gas, oil, kerosene, wood or even charcoal is burned. It is important to note that an appliance that is properly installed and maintained, as the member for Chifley outlined earlier, will not present a hazard. However, if an appliance is not working properly or is used incorrectly or if there is poor ventilation then dangerous levels of carbon monoxide will result. This points to the fact that it should be incumbent on all landlords everywhere, as the motion points out, to be aware of this and to properly maintain the heating equipment in their properties and have it inspected on a regular basis And, as tenants, when we enter into a lease arrangement, we should ensure that we check on the maintenance of appliances more vigilantly and do our part to insist that this maintenance takes place.

Of course, it is not only here in Australia. We know that around the world each year hundreds of people die accidentally from carbon monoxide poisoning. Some more die from carbon monoxide poisoning outside the home and other buildings, such as in cars, as the member for Mallee has pointed out. Foetuses, infants, elderly people and people with asthma or a history of respiratory or heart disease are especially susceptible.

Some of the risks for carbon monoxide poisoning arise from commonly occurring situations, such as a blocked flue or a faulty cowl, damaged or corroded fluepipes, sealing up a fixed fresh air ventilator or using camping appliances indoors or in an improperly ventilated space. We should also all be aware that the threat from carbon monoxide is much higher if the appliance is in a very small room such as a toilet or bathroom—surprisingly, many gas heaters are still fitted in confined spaces such as these—or if you are sleeping in the same room as the appliance, such as in a tent or a caravan. The threat is also increased if ventilation to the appliance is absent or restricted or if the flue is in poor condition. It has been argued that the charcoal briquettes and portable barbecues should carry specific warnings about the dangers of burning charcoal in confined areas, and I agree that this is something that we should move on. These are risks that we should all be more aware of because of the everyday, commonly occurring situations where these risks arise. I believe that with the switch in consumption from electricity to gas heating in particular over recent years—a switch that I believe is only going to accelerate—this is a problem that we really do have to face as legislators.

Raised levels of carbon monoxide can have significant impact on human health, and the Australian government has taken steps to manage and reduce the amount of carbon monoxide that is produced. These steps include implementing national fuel quality standards, promoting alternative fuels and supporting the implementation of tighter vehicle emission standards. However, more needs to be done. Through the National Environment Protection Council, the Australian state and territory governments have also agreed on a national environment protection measure for ambient air quality. The measure includes national standards for six key pollutants, including carbon monoxide. The Gillard government is committing to working through the COAG framework to progress national action on a number of fronts. There is no doubt that lives would be saved if carbon monoxide detectors were fitted in homes with gas appliances and if states regulated to ensure that landlords were obliged to have qualified contractors inspect all gas appliances in rental properties on a regular basis. With these observations in mind, I have no qualms at all about speaking in favour of the motion and commending it to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.