Asbestos Awareness WeekSpeech
I am pleased to be able to support this motion. Last week was Asbestos Awareness Week, and I urge all Australians to be aware of the danger lurking in our homes. Around 700 people a year are diagnosed with deadly mesothelioma, which is only caused by asbestos. Over 3,300 'other cancer' deaths a year are attributed to asbestos. The victims are tradies, manufacturing and construction workers, power and utility workers and those from many other occupations, but increasingly the victims are home renovators or kids playing in contaminated yards. Many suburban homes still contain asbestos.
Last week, at our parliamentary friends event, I learnt that asbestos does not discriminate. Sadly, one Liberal MP has recently lost a long-serving staff member to asbestos disease. A Labor staffer has also been diagnosed with meso. I pay tribute to the bipartisan work of the member for Monash, Russell Broadbent, along with the member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters, as co-chairs of the parliamentary group on asbestos. However, for too long it has been left to unions, victims groups and law firms to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos and to force change.
Raw asbestos was still imported in bulk in the mid-2000s. It was only the action of members of the Maritime Union of Australia, who finally refused to unload any more of this deadly cargo, that brought the trade to a complete halt. Their action was not legal, but it was moral and necessary. Governments had failed workers, and after seeing many of their own members succumb to asbestos related disease, the MUA had had enough. In 2004 and 2005, it was only unions and victims groups which forced James Hardie to leave money in trust in Australia to meet their obligations arising from negligence actions against them. You will recall that they had restructured their business to set up in Europe and to remove all assets from our shores. In my electorate of Corangamite, in one large workplace, now closed, literally dozens have died because of the raw asbestos that was used to channel molten metal as it flowed from furnaces. I note that the youngest recorded victim of mesothelioma was only in his early 20s, despite the very long latency period of this disease. As a three-year-old, he played in the dust as his parents sanded down the asbestos of their home for painting.
Of course, thanks to the Gillard government, we now have the national Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency. Last week, the agency released the National strategic plan for asbestos management and awareness. It has four key elements: improve asbestos awareness to influence behavioural change; identification and effective management of asbestos; safe prioritised removal and effective waste management; and international collaboration and leadership. In a bipartisan way, we must give the agency every support we can. They have produced a great householder awareness kit, and I urge all members and senators to promote it in their social media.
On the fourth priority, international leadership and collaboration, I want to mention two issues. The first is that, together, we should be working to list chrysotile, or white asbestos, as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. The listing is being blocked by Russia, a major asbestos exporter. They argue that white asbestos is not dangerous, but we know it has caused meso and cancer here and is recognised as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. Russia and Kazakhstan use the fact that white asbestos is not listed under the Rotterdam Convention to argue that it is therefore safe to export to countries. I urge the Morrison government to support the listing. Secondly, Asia is now using huge amounts of asbestos—about the same amount as Australia used at the peak in the early 1980s. Asian countries will face a tsunami of deaths in the coming decades, unless they ban its use and import.
I commend the agency Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA for the leadership they are providing in Asia on this issue. They have had several wins in the last year. The government of Vietnam announced in 2018 that they would ban the use of asbestos in cement sheets in 2023, and the Bandung provincial government in Indonesia have also legislated for bans on asbestos. These countries need enormous support to identify and test for asbestos, to conduct air testing, and to set up registers and a range of other functions that we take for granted. Asbestos is still a killer. Only by working together can we defeat it both here and in our region.Share Tweet