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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5074

National Broadband Network

Mr CHRISTENSEN (Dawson) (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is the minister aware that an asbestos pit beside a footpath at a Mackay NBN construction site was uncovered for almost a week in April, exposing workers and the public to asbestos contamination? Given the pit was alongside a footpath next to the main street of the Mackay CBD, does the government know how many people were exposed to this asbestos?

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:50): I thank the member for Dawson for his question. He is right, I believe, to raise this concern and I appreciate his raising it. Despite what I have said about some of the issues being raised about the politics of just trying to use asbestos to attack the NBN, I for one am not satisfied to hear what you have just said in terms of the safety of people. I will ask my Comcare regulator to give me a report.

One thing I know is that it is possible to take and handle asbestos safely. I do not support the proposition advanced by the Leader of the Opposition that we just leave asbestos there for time immemorial—all asbestos. I believe that we do have to have a prioritised removal process. This is probably a point of difference, one I hope that it is not between the opposition and the government—

Mr Hockey: Answer the question!

The SPEAKER: Order, the member for North Sydney!

Mr SHORTEN: I believe in the prioritised removal of asbestos because in some cases it will become airborne. Some of the places which have asbestos in them, such as the Telstra pits which the member for Dawson has kindly brought to my attention, could contain asbestos. These pits will get tampered with over time. There are pipes and ducts which will get tampered with—as they will in people's own residential houses.

What we need to do—and what I am pleased that Telstra did at a meeting convened by myself and the Minister for Communications—is that we want to make sure that where asbestos has to be removed where we come into contact with asbestos it is done safely. That is why what is clear in recent weeks and months, and the member for Dawson's question to me taken at face value reinforces the importance of what this government is doing, is that we need to make sure that there is safe handling where people come into contact with it. So I will follow up your matter and I will give you a report on it, and it is not acceptable.

Mr Abbott: I raise a point of order. The minister was asked a very direct question about something that happened in April, more than a month ago. How many people—

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat.