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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 933


Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (20:40): I also would like to thank the member for Page for moving this motion and for reminding us all how important it is that the Australian government continues to call on Canada to ratify the listing of chrysotile asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade. We in Australia know asbestos very well. In the 15 years after World War II, 52 per cent of all houses built in the state of New South Wales were made of fibro. In my electorate, where building was intense at that time in Wentworthville, Pendle Hill and Toongabbie, there are some local government areas where 90 per cent of the houses are made from fibro.

Australia suffers one of the highest rates of incidence of mesothelioma—the worst of the asbestos related diseases—in the world, with estimates of 13,000 cases by 2020 and a further 40,000 to 45,000 cases of asbestos related cancer. This is a dreadful disease which hangs around in the community and shows itself some 40, 50 or 60 years after exposure to the fibres.

Many in my community think of India as part of the family—their mums and their dads and their cousins still live there. So to think that a country like India, which is growing so fast, is continuing to use this product and that it is being exported there from a country where you could not even give it away—Canada—is truly shocking. The use of asbestos in India has increased by more than 300 per cent in the last couple of decades. A very wise man, Dr. Sanjay Chaturvedi, said it quite well when he said:

… the burden of industrial pollution reaches the developing world much faster than the fruits of industrial growth.

There can be no doubt that, as the global demand for asbestos decreased, there were companies which aggressively sought out countries where the building boom was on but where the health and worker safety regulations were still developing. Such countries will face a future very similar to ours. We in the world who have handled asbestos for many years should know better. We should not doubt how profoundly appalling some of the behaviour of asbestos producers has been in the past and how appalling it continues to be.

The world has known about the dangers of asbestos for many, many years. It was known by the Greeks, and Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder noticed that women who wove asbestos into cloth commonly displayed a sickness of the lungs. The first modern registered death from asbestos exposure was in 1899—40 years before James Hardie opened its plant in my electorate. It was a 33-year-old man who died from asbestos related disease. He had worked in an asbestos textile factory for 14 years and, of the nine other people who worked with him, he was, when he died, the only one to have survived until then. In 1906, the French made recommendations that asbestos workplaces should be ventilated. In 1916, Prudential Insurance in the US decided that they would no longer give life insurance to asbestos workers. In 1917 and 1918, there was more research in the US and James Hardie set up their plant—without appropriate worker safety practices. The first diagnosis of asbestosis was in 1924, following the death of a 33-year-old woman who had been working with asbestos since she was 13. A subsequent study showed that 25 per cent of asbestos workers in England had lung disease. The first workers compensation claim for asbestos was in 1927, involving a foreman in a textile plant in Massachusetts. By the thirties, when James Hardie opened its plant in Australia, a significant amount of scientific knowledge had been accumulated about asbestos-related disease. The US made asbestosis a work compensatable disease in 1941—many years ago, and yet we still have Canada selling this material to developing countries. The first Australian case of mesothelioma was a miner from Wittenoom—in 1962. Later research identified over 658 cases leading up to 1979. James Hardie put a warning on its product in 1978 and stopped producing it in 1982 but continued to sell its stockpile until 1987—appalling behaviour. I commend the motion to the House. (Time expired)