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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 973

Mr BLANCHARD —My question is directed to the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. What action does the Government intend to take to remedy the disastrous consequences that asbestos mining has had for the health of the Aboriginal community at Baryulgil in New South Wales?

Mr HOLDING —The problems at Baryulgil have been a matter of concern to this Government. The problem has been around for some time and it flows from the opening of an asbestos mine at Baryulgil in 1943. The mine was closed in 1977. A great deal of work has been done on this matter by the Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service. I compliment the Service on its work. Representatives of the Service came to see me about three months ago and established to my satisfaction that there was and is a continuing health problem amongst the Aboriginal community at Baryulgil. On the evidence that they presented, there seems to be prima facie evidence to show that the health regulations governing the mining of asbestos had not been complied with. I discussed the matter with the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales. I was asked by the Redfern Aboriginal Legal Service to appoint a royal commission. After discussion with its representatives, we decided that the appropriate course to follow was to refer this matter to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs, my own view being, in general, that this Parliament does not always make as much use of its parliamentary committees as it should.

This is a serious matter. It involves serious questions of both health and the exercise of our laws to protect people in such a situation. Accordingly, I have asked the Chairman of the Aboriginal Affairs Committee to undertake such an inquiry. I table the terms of reference. In order to enable the Committee effectively to pursue this inquiry, I indicate that legal resources and medical resources will be made available to that Committee. It is time that this matter was cleaned up once and for all.