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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2333

Ms OWENS (11:21 AM) —I am very pleased to support the member for Reid in asking the House to ensure that Australia takes a leading role in establishing a treaty to prevent the mining and export of asbestos worldwide. It is right that we do that because we in this country have lived through the development of the asbestos industry and the plague that it has perpetrated on the families and the workers involved.

Australia suffers one of the highest rates of incidence of mesothelioma in the world, with estimates of 13,000 cases by 2020 and a further 40,000 to 45,000 cases of asbestos related cancer. The dreadful statistics indicate that the rates of incidence of this awful disease are not expected to peak until 2017, even though asbestos manufacture and use as a new product in Australia ceased in 1983. Survival rates are extremely poor with only five per cent of patients alive five years after diagnosis. We as a country know the future of the workers and families in countries around the world where asbestos is now being used quite freely.

While Australia and many other developed nations have banned the use of asbestos many developing countries, including India and other countries in South Asia, are still employing the deadly product and countries like Canada are allowing the sale of this deadly substance to developing nations—knowing full well the risk it poses. We are well and truly watching history repeat itself. Let me take India as an example. It is a place many ‘Parramattians’ literally consider a part of the family. It is a place, for Parramatta, where many brothers, sisters, mums and dads still live. It disturbs me and many other people in Parramatta to know that since 1960 India has used seven million tonnes of asbestos and its usage is only intensifying. Over the last 30 years India’s usage of asbestos has increased by more than 300 per cent.

That this industry is allowed to flourish at a time when the occupational, environmental and domestic hazards of asbestos exposure are firmly established is quite scandalous. Dr Sanjay Chaturvedi said it well when he observed that historically the burden of industrial pollution reaches the developing world much faster than the fruits of industrial growth. In developed countries you cannot even give it away these days. There are laws that prevent society’s use of this poisonous substance. To absorb the fall in global demand, chrysotile asbestos-pushers have aggressively targeted consumers in countries with booming economies but developing health and regulatory frameworks. In India, asbestos producers have found a ready market for their goods and over the last decade India has overtaken all others as Canada’s most important chrysotile asbestos export destination. More than a quarter of Canada’s yearly asbestos exports are to India, raking in more than $50 million for Canadian exporters. Attempts to list chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam Treaty in 2006 failed. Listing it under the treaty would require importing countries to be warned of risks associated with hazardous substances. The failure to list this deadly substance leaves many citizens of developing countries importing the product at grave risk.

I support the member for Reid in calling for further international efforts to have the mining and export of asbestos banned world wide. Western knowledge of the dangers of asbestos has been around for a long time. Pliny the Elder first noted many thousands of years ago that people who worked with asbestos displayed a sickness of the lungs, but the first death in modern times from asbestos exposure was recorded as early as 1899, which is nearly 40 years before James Hardie opened its plant at Camellia in my electorate. In 1900, a physician at London’s Charing Cross Hospital concluded that a 30-year-old man had died from an asbestos related disease. The French knew about the dangers of asbestos as early as 1906 and made recommendations that ventilation be increased in asbestos workplaces. In 1917 and 1918 several US studies showed that asbestos workers were dying unnaturally young. In 1916, just over 20 years before James Hardie opened its plant in Camellia, Presidential Life Insurance in the US started refusing to give life insurance to anybody who worked in an asbestos related industry. Yet nearly 100 years later this product is being sold to developing countries, and over the next 50 to 70 years those countries will pay the price for using this material. I commend the member for Reid for bringing this motion to the House, and I support it fully.