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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4787

National Broadband Network

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (14:33): My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation. Will the minister update the House on the steps that Telstra is taking in relation to asbestos? How will the government better protect Australians from this deadly scourge?

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongMinister for Financial Services and Superannuation and Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) (14:33): I thank the member for the question. I note that it is the labour movement who have got, I think, the proudest record of tackling the issues on asbestos. We understand that asbestos in Australia will still kill—

Mr Christensen: You're not political, are you!

Mr SHORTEN: Member for Dawson, what is it about asbestos that you think there is a need for you to pollute with your political palaver? Asbestos is an absolute priority to tackle and eradicate in this country. It is a Labor government which has now created, for the first time, a national agency to deal with asbestos and coordinate a national plan. Asbestos is something which for generations the labour movement and—I am going to use those words that the opposition hate hearing; they put their hands over their ears—the trade unions pushed hard on. Everyone in the labour movement wishes, as I know many in the opposition do, that we could uninvent the scourge of asbestos. We wish that companies like James Hardie had done it differently from the way they did, but they did not and that is the sad legacy of asbestos.

We know in this country that it is not just those who have mined asbestos and it is not just those who have worked in the manufacturing of asbestos but now it is people in their own homes and in the communities who can be exposed to asbestos. That is why this government commissioned an asbestos management review, chaired by Geoff Fary, to make recommendations on how we can have a national approach on asbestos. In implementing the recommendations of that report, we have created legislation to create an asbestos agency. I acknowledge that the opposition have supported that asbestos agency. I particularly acknowledge the member for Farrer and a speech she gave about supporting this matter.

Today I have had to meet Telstra, along with my ministerial colleagues the member for Ballarat, the member for Lindsay and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. We met with Telstra, we met with NBN Co., we met with stakeholders, we met with trade unions and we met with the victims groups—we had the Chief Medical Officer present—to talk about what we do, because it is clear to me, having spoken directly with the member for Lindsay and to the residents in Penrith, that they have not been treated properly in the way that this matter has been conducted. But what is particularly pleasing is that the CEO of Telstra, David Thodey, came to the meeting and he took a leadership position. He did not take a political position and he did not take a legal position. He took a leadership position. He agreed that Telstra accepts responsibility that it has to do more. So residents should be pleased that that is the open transparency which Telstra is committed to. He put the contractors on notice that he expects people to live up to the standards and to make sure that Telstra's standards are trained throughout the system. Furthermore, he said that he accepted responsibility for the end-to-end training involved.

This has been a dreadful time for those Penrith residents. It is a dreadful time to think that your child might have been exposed. It will hardly be enhanced by some of the opposition questioning, I have to say. But what we will do, I can inform the House, is establish a national asbestos register for anyone to record their possible exposure to asbestos—not just employees and contractors but residents, people in their own homes and people in our communities. We will work with all stakeholders and we will work with the opposition when they choose to work with us, and we will not see the people of Penrith and other areas let down in the way they were by Telstra and other organisations who should have done better. (Time expired)