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Friday, 26 May 1989
Page: 2835


Senator JENKINS(11.48) —I apologise to the Minister and to the Committee for backtracking at this stage. I heard the Minister give his response to Senator Peter Baume with regard to the proposed Aboriginal medical centre to service the Baryulgil communities. I also spoke with those people yesterday and they mentioned this matter to me. I heard the Minister refer to monitoring the health situation as far as the people of the Baryulgil communities are concerned by means of the Aboriginal medical centre. I ask the Minister whether he would also be prepared to take more positive steps because it is important that their health be monitored, as they are in grave danger of developing an asbestos related disease, as indeed are the non-Aboriginal managers and foremen who have now moved from that area. I believe that their driveways and some of their land was covered with tailings from the asbestos mine.

I ask the Minister whether he would be prepared to take a preventive measure. Recommendation 6 of the 1984 report Effects of Asbestos Mining on the Baryulgil Community states:

That the Commonwealth Minister for Aboriginal Affairs recommend to the New South Wales Government that they institute a vigorous programme to decontaminate Baryulgil Square as far as possible.

Senator Coulter mentioned that a sample taken from the pre-school area of Baryulgil Square was examined by the Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare in Western Australia and was found to be gravel which contained 10 per cent chrysotile, which is white asbestos. I believe that the whole area was covered with gravel and that the asbestos was not removed. But over time that gravel, through the elements of the weather, has moved around and the asbestos is in the top levels of the soil. Therefore, the people who live there continue to be in grave danger. So a preventive measure can be taken there.

These people do not want to move away. The Baryulgil area is part of their original tribal lands. They were not responsible for the Baryulgil mine being set up in 1943. They did not even have citizenship or a vote at that time. The mine was nothing to do with them. Although in 1949 a report was received in the United Kingdom Parliament which definitely linked contact with asbestos with carcinogenic diseases-that report was available in Western Australia in 1951 and, therefore, presumably, in other parts of Australia-the people still worked in those mines and lived in that area. There is a very strong responsibility on the Federal Government to take preventive measures now so that no other people can be affected.

Another positive measure which I ask the Minister to consider pressuring the Government to take is to contribute to the research currently being done in Western Australia by Dr Bruce Robinson and others on his team into the cure and prevention of mesothelioma in people who have been in contact with asbestos. The research program money will run out this year. People are very eager to get onto the research treatment program. It is a sort of dreadful Russian roulette. Life is being prolonged to some extent for people who get onto the treatment research program, but only one person can be treated at a time. I ask the Minister to consider very carefully whether that could be done.