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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13372

Mr CONROY (Charlton) (11:30): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that November is Asbestos Awareness Month;

(2) acknowledges that tens of thousands of Australian's have ongoing asbestos related illnesses as a result of being exposed to asbestos in the course of their employment or through exposure at their home;

(3) recognises the significant impact on the families and friends of Australians who have asbestos related illnesses;

(4) congratulates asbestos related illness sufferers, their families and the labour movement for their campaign to win justice and compensation for those exposed to asbestos; and

(5) commits to working towards eliminating asbestos both in Australia and around the world.

November is Asbestos Awareness Month. It is fitting that the House recognises the impact of asbestos related illnesses in our communities, congratulates those who have campaigned for justice for those who suffer from these illnesses and commits to eliminating asbestos both in Australia and around the world.

Asbestos related illnesses are among the most painful diseases. Exposure to asbestos can lead to mesothelioma, cancer of the larynx, ovaries and lungs, and asbestosis. The World Health Organization estimates that 125 million people around the world are still exposed to asbestos in the course of their employment and that 90,000 people die annually from asbestos related diseases. These are truly shocking statistics, and we can be thankful that asbestos was banned in Australia in 2003.

Asbestos Awareness Month highlights to Australians the danger of working with asbestos during home renovations and maintenance. Australia has one of the highest incidences of asbestos related cancers in the world. It is a startling fact that nearly every home that was built or renovated before the mid-1980s is likely to contain asbestos. As millions of Australians would live in such a house, it is particularly important that we are aware of these dangers of exposure to asbestos. Before the ban in 2003, asbestos miners, manufacturers, trades men and women, and their families were impacted by exposure. These are commonly known as the first and second waves of victims. The third wave of people who will be affected are those who undertake do-it-yourself home renovations or maintenance in old houses. It is this third wave of DIY-ers and renovators who are at risk of dangerous exposure and on whom the awareness month focuses.

Anyone who watches commercial television will be aware that, in recent years, Australians have increasingly become obsessed with home renovations. On any given night, Australians can watch The Block, Better Homes and Gardens, House Rules or Grand Designs—the list goes on. Given the popularity of these shows, it is fundamentally important that the community is aware of the risks associated with exposure to asbestos and the horrific consequences of such exposure. The clear message of Asbestos Awareness Month is this: there is absolutely no safe level of exposure to asbestos fibres. I urge everyone who is considering or undertaking home renovations to visit and undertake the 20-point asbestos safety check.

All of us in the House will be aware of the horrendous exposure workers at James Hardie suffered and the unconscionable actions of that company in seeking to walk away from its liability. It is only because of the bravery of campaigners such as Bernie Banton and the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, who together with the trade union movement delivered justice for these victims, that we are in the situation we are in today. I do not want to be overtly political in speaking to this motion, but the James Hardie saga is a significant episode in Australia's industrial history and is particularly relevant in raising asbestos awareness. Workers were exposed to asbestos and their employer knew this exposure was dangerous, yet it continued to allow them to work with asbestos. Then, when workers sought justice and compensation, the company did everything possible to avoid its responsibilities. This is a shameful example of a corporation exploiting workers in the worst possible way. It is our duty as parliamentarians to do all that we can to be vigilant and to prevent such shameful industrial abuse from happening in the future. Bernie Banton, who was one of the leaders of the campaign for justice, passed away eight years ago this Friday. I am proud that this House is recognising this brave campaign for justice with the help of the labour movement. Australia is a better country because of the efforts of these brave fighters for fairness. I should put on the record that I am particularly concerned about recent reports that James Hardie, despite very strong profits, has cut back its compensation program by a further 44 per cent.

Australians need to be aware of the dangers of exposure to asbestos. It is fitting that the national parliament is recognising Asbestos Awareness Month, is paying tribute to those who have fought for justice and is committing to working towards eliminating asbestos, both in Australia and around the world. I, again, pay tribute to the work of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, Bernie Banton and the trade union movement. I particularly acknowledge that my predecessor as the member for Charlton, Greg Combet, lists his negotiations with James Hardie as his greatest achievement in political life. In advance, I thank my colleagues from all sides of the House for making a contribution to this debate on Asbestos Awareness Month. I am proud to commend the motion to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Price ): Is the motion seconded?