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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4785

National Broadband Network

Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (14:27): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I refer to his previous answer in which he referred to a letter he wrote to Telstra about its pits in 2009, two years before the NBN signed its deal with Telstra. Did the letter refer to asbestos? Did it refer to the NBN Co.? In what capacity did he write it, and will he table a copy of it?

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:28): In terms of the issues which the shadow minister is raising, I will go to a number of the points which are inherent in the question. The first point is that what has triggered this debate is the debate about what has been happening in Penrith. I had the opportunity to go and meet the residents—

Opposition members interjecting

The SPEAKER: Order!

Ms Julie Bishop: Just answer the question!

Mr SHORTEN: Well, we all know why the issue is being raised. It is because there has been a whole lot of debate in the media—

Mr Pyne: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister was asked a very simple question about the relevance of his letter that he mentioned in his answer before. He needs to explain an answer to the member for Wentworth's question very clearly.

The SPEAKER: There is no point of order. The Manager of Opposition Business will resume his seat. The minister has the call, and will refer to the question before the chair.

Mr SHORTEN: I will refer to the question in terms of my answer. The issue which has prompted the member for Wentworth's question, of course, has been the most recent reports about asbestos exposure in Penrith and, indeed, the role of Telstra and contractors, and responsibility for that exposure.

The first point I want to make in coming to the answer of the member's question is this: asbestos should not be a political football. I met with a family whose 11-week-old child may have been exposed to asbestos. This is a very serious matter. This is why I do not believe it is appropriate that we use exposure to asbestos in a political way, which the member for Wentworth is doing. What is it about asbestos exposure which the opposition do not get? It is not politics; it actually should be above politics.

The second point I wish to make is that the meeting we had just before has agreed—stakeholders, including Telstra and contractors, have agreed—that there should be, for the first time ever, a national public health register for exposure. That is a very important breakthrough. And it does not just extend to employees or contractors. Under this Labor government, which has got a track record of tackling asbestos, what we will do is establish a public health register. Those opposite had 12 years to do it when they were in power, and they just did not do it.

Mr Turnbull: Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

The SPEAKER: I call the member for Wentworth, on a point of order other than relevance.

Mr Turnbull: Madam Speaker, the minister is defying you. You have told him to go to the question. He is refusing to answer a very simple question.

The SPEAKER: The member for Wentworth will resume his seat. The question obviously went to asbestos. The minister has the call and will be relevant to the question.

Mr SHORTEN: I know the coalition has moved to the far right, but it is disappointing to see the member for Wentworth having to demonstrate his right-wing bona fides by engaging in this cheap politics.

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

Mr SHORTEN: But for the purposes of assisting the House I would like to table the letter that I wrote to Telstra on 27 March 2009.