Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1585      March 13, 2013

New asbestos website steps up funding pressure

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) and asbestos community groups are urging members to help pressure the federal government to commit Budget funds so the massive task of clearing Australia’s buildings of the deadly substance can be started.

The union and asbestos diseases groups in every state want guaranteed funding in the 2013-14 Budget so a National Asbestos Authority can be quickly set up, with resources to immediately begin removing asbestos from all government and commercial buildings.

AMWU national secretary Paul Bastian said funding is also needed to ensure the new Office of Asbestos Safety can run publicity campaigns warning home renovators of the continuing danger of asbestos sitting in the roofs and walls of up to two thirds of houses built between WW2 and 1983.

He said that if the urgent recommendations of last year’s Asbestos Management Review Report were to be given meaning in safeguarding Australians, then politicians on both sides of parliament had to make good on statements of support by committing future Budget funding.

Mr Bastian was speaking after launching the new “Asbestos Free Future” website with co-sponsor the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and campaigners Serafina Salucci and Pat Rogan, who are battling mesothelioma.

The site asbestosfreefuture.com.au tells their stories and makes it easy for AMWU members to sign a letter to the federal Cabinet’s powerful Expenditure Review Committee and their local federal MP pressing for funding to implement the National Asbestos Strategy.

“We have the highest rate of asbestos-related diseases in the world on a per capital basis and unfortunately the death rate will continue to rise through this decade,” Mr Bastian said.

“This is not a problem of the past that ended with James Hardie ceasing production because this lethal hazard still lies in thousands of older buildings in almost every suburb in Australia.”

The National Asbestos Strategy goals include:

  • prioritising the audit and removal of asbestos from all government and commercial buildings by 2030
  • introducing Asbestos Content Reports on all homes and flats built before 1987, to be administered by councils, to alert all owners or buyers to the dangers
  • introducing Asbestos Safety certificates for residences to further alert householders
  • adopting new national standards for licensed operators to handle, remove, transport and dispose of asbestos safely in approved sites
  • asbestos education courses for those working with the substance
  • enacting a national set of laws on standards for asbestos waste disposal sites and to assist residents with safe disposal
  • Asbestos awareness campaigns for the public that are targeted and evaluated
  • establishing a National Asbestos Authority to oversee the work.

Mrs Salucci said it was deeply disturbing to hear amateur home renovators considering removing old asbestos sheeting, which indicated wide community ignorance of the continuing dangers.

The 43-year-old mother of four is among a “third wave” of people suffering from mesothelioma due to domestic use of asbestos products, a legacy of her dad building a garage when she was a child.

“While asbestos is still in our older buildings, like houses, hospitals, schools, there’s a risk of exposure if fibres become airborne, so we must work to safely get rid of it,” said Ms Salucci.

Former Member of NSW Parliament Pat Rogan said funds were urgently needed for both prevention and research. He wants a safer environment for his grandchildren.

“I’m a Labor man and I think it’s great the Gillard government are committed in principle to getting rid of asbestos in buildings, but it is a mammoth task with the thousands of homes built with asbestos sheeting they have to make a start,” he said.

“Awareness is terribly important, it has to be a priority because today’s younger people have to know to leave it alone, not to try and renovate or work on it because the danger is still there.”   

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