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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 934

Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (20:46): Awareness weeks are part and parcel of the national health calendar, and that is a good thing. They bring what is often much-needed publicity to what in many cases were once little known or thought about ailments and illnesses. By highlighting the causes, symptoms and where possible cures of certain conditions, the general public, media outlets, parliaments and most importantly sufferers and their families can come to know more about some of the health-related afflictions which beset our modern world. Importantly, understanding illnesses and appreciating just what people affected by them are going through goes a long way towards improving health services to combat them. That is what these awareness weeks are all about.

These days, one of the most important awareness weeks is that pertaining to asbestos. In Australia, bans continue on the production and use of asbestos and strict controls are in place for the removal and disposal of existing material. This is how it must be. A $5 million Commonwealth grant has been allocated to support the Asbestos Disease Research Institute Bernie Banton Centre. This is appropriate and commendable. Funding has also been provided for the new Australian Mesothelioma Registry, launched in 2010 to compile more accurate and detailed information on mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases. This takes in support for the harmonisation of health and safety legislation which for the first time will put in place a uniform framework for the minimisation of exposure, the removal of asbestos and the management of asbestos materials in the workplace.

There are also the provisions of the loan agreement with the New South Wales government to ensure asbestos victims and their families continue to receive payments through the Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund. This fund is unfortunately going to be increasingly necessary into the future. As well, there is the $1.5 million Comcare Asbestos Innovation Fund, which sponsors programs and research to prevent and better manage asbestos exposure, as well as improve treatment for asbestos-disease sufferers.

Ongoing research is vitally important. All too sadly, Australia suffers one of the highest rates of asbestos-related diseases in the world, with the effects of asbestos mining still being suffered by many. More is the pity that in the Asia-Pacific region where, despite what we know here in Australia and as is well documented worldwide, asbestos remains an attractive commodity because of its low cost compared to other comparable building materials. According to the Victorian government's Better Health channel, Australia has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. This is due to the high rate of asbestos use and mining over many decades.

Since the early 1980s more than 10,000 individuals have succumbed to mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos and, according to cancer experts, an additional 25,000 Australians are expected to die over the next forty years from this painful and crippling disease. To put it into perspective, in 2007 nearly 600 people were diagnosed with mesothelioma in Australia. Of these new cases, 81 per cent were men. The figures also showed that, as suspected, deaths occurred most often in the age range encompassing those individuals who were 75 to 79 years old. More than 70 per cent of the mesothelioma deaths were among men and women over the age of 65. National trends from 1997 to 2007 show that deaths from mesothelioma steadily increased. Experts suggest that the number of deaths from mesothelioma will peak somewhere between 2014 and 2021, depending on the models used.

Mesothelioma is a rare and often fatal cancer of the mesothelium, the membrane which covers most of the body's internal organs. Mesothelioma can develop decades after exposure to asbestos. Where it cannot be surgically removed, this condition is incurable. In some cases just a whiff of asbestos dust can prove ultimately fatal. Symptoms or signs of mesothelioma may not appear until 20 to 50 years, or more, after exposure to asbestos. Studies show that the Australians most at risk of developing mesothelioma include trades such as carpenters, construction workers, electrical engineers, insulation installers, miners, plumbers and shipbuilders.

At Batlow in my Riverina electorate not only did a devastating hailstorm on 9 November last year wipe out the apple crop and strip trees to the extent they will take years to recover but also a major processor now faces asbestos-related damage to a warehouse. This has real and lasting financial implications for this town, for which apples are almost its sole economic means. Hopefully assistance will be forthcoming to Batlow as it tries to build a future after being hit with more setbacks than could be deemed fair. I commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr KJ Thomson ): The time for the 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.