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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5076

National Broadband Network

Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (14:56): My question is to the Prime Minister. I remind the Prime Minister of evidence given in Senate estimates by the chief executive officer of Comcare that more than half of all asbestos cases since 1996 involving telecommunication pits have occurred in the past six weeks and his concession that 'At a general level, yes, the Commonwealth will be liable'. Why is the Prime Minister insisting that the risk of asbestos contamination occurring as a result of the National Broadband Network is not the government's responsibility when her own head of Comcare has confirmed the opposite is true?

Ms GILLARD (LalorPrime Minister) (14:57): I thank the member for her question. I would refer the member to the words of Telstra CEO David Thodey, who said: 'We own the infrastructure, it is our responsibility.' That is the head of Telstra saying that they own the infrastructure and it is their responsibility. So clearly Telstra has stepped up, as is appropriate, and taken responsibility for its infrastructure, and so it should.

On asbestos generally, of course this government takes the view that if there is a hazard in our nation then we are concerned to do everything we can to support community members who are worried about that hazard in their environment and their lives and to support the removal of that hazard from people's lives. That is why this is the government that has stepped up to having better approaches on asbestos, as the Minister for Workplace Relations has outlined to the parliament today. I am concerned whenever I hear that anybody has become worried or has become exposed to asbestos. We all should be concerned about that.

Mr Abbott: I raise a point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was quite specific. It referred the Prime Minister to the head of Comcare's statement that the Commonwealth would be liable for this asbestos contamination, and the Prime Minister should address that matter.

The SPEAKER: The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has the call.

Ms GILLARD: I was asked about the question of responsibility and I have quoted the CEO of Telstra and his words, 'We own the infrastructure, it is our responsibility.' But the government has not been content to just say this is a matter for Telstra; the government through the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and the Minister for Communications convened a meeting yesterday because we want to see everything that can be done being done. That is the government's approach. I can assure the Leader of the Opposition that as we take that approach we will deal with people respectfully, and that is a sharp contrast to how he has approached these questions in the past.