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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5072

National Broadband Network

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield) (14:41): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. I remind the minister that on 19 April, after problems with asbestos had been widely reported in the press, the Chief Executive Officer of NBN Co. was asked at a joint parliamentary committee hearing whether asbestos was a big issue for the rollout, to which he responded, 'I would not say it is a big issue.' Does the minister agree that asbestos contamination is not a big issue and, if not, what action did he take with respect to the views of the CEO of NBN Co.?

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:41): I do believe that asbestos exposure in Australia is a big issue; let me be very clear about that. The reason why I say that is more people are going to die from asbestos exposure than died in World War I. That is why this government—and I do recognise and concede that those opposite did, in a bipartisan fashion, vote for our asbestos legislation—is the first government since Federation to actually put in place a national approach on asbestos. In terms of telecommunications—

Mr Fletcher: Madam Speaker, I raise a point of order on relevance. The question was: did he agree with the statement that asbestos is not a big issue and what action did he take?

The SPEAKER: The member for Bradfield will resume his seat. The minister has the call.

Mr Adams interjecting

The SPEAKER: The member for Lyons will leave the chamber under 94(a)!

The member for Lyons then left the chamber—

Mr SHORTEN: I thank the member for Bradfield for his question. I do believe asbestos is a big issue in Australia. It is not just an issue in telecommunications, as I was about to say; it is an issue across Australia. At least one in every three houses has asbestos in it if it was built after 1945 and before the mid-1980s. Even as we speak, and this weekend, there will be people who will do renovations in their homes who need to be alert to the issue of possible asbestos in the house. When they tamper with the shed or they take down the shed or they do the renovations or they lift up the carpet which might have some cement tiles underneath which contain asbestos, they do need to be careful. So I do believe it is an issue, and of course it is an issue within telecommunications.

It is an issue to make sure that we remove it safely. But what we cannot do is adopt the 'see no evil, hear no evil, talk no evil' approach of the opposition about leaving it, as the Leader of the Opposition suggested, in situ, in place. It is inevitable that Australians will want to change their houses and renovate them. It is inevitable that whoever is in power will want to renovate our telecommunications system—even if your plan is too slow, too late and too old, nonetheless, if you are elected you will end up having policies which will take people into these pits. What is most important, though, if that is the case—be it the householder at home, be it the telecommunications worker at a telecommunications pit, be it anyone in our community, be it the people who wash the clothes of those who might be exposed to it, be it the kids who might be watching mum or dad renovate on the weekend—is the safe removal.

As much as the opposition have tried to turn this asbestos debate into a debate about NBN—and let's face it, they never talk, by and large, in the parliament, although there are many notable exceptions individually about the issue—they have not really tried to make asbestos an issue of concern for the coalition. It is not really part of their brand. The only reason they are talking about it now is because they see it as a way to attack NBN. Let's call it for what it is.

But let us at least use the opposition attack to take an opportunity to get above politics, to talk about asbestos exposure generally. Telstra has made it clear that they knew there are cement-lined pits which have asbestos in them. They have made it clear that the contractors have not fulfilled it. We know that there needs to be daily exposure. The issue is asbestosis, not politics. (Time expired)