Release type: Joint Media Release


Labor to deliver first national asbestos exposure register


Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

The Gillard Labor Government views the identification and removal of asbestos as an absolute priority.

Today the Government has announced that the first National Asbestos Exposure Register will be created and maintained by the new national Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

For generations the Australian Labor movement has led the national charge on identifying and eradicating the scourge of asbestos and asbestos related disease. There can be no short cuts with asbestos safety.

Australia was the world’s most prolific user of asbestos containing materials. It is estimated up to 1 in 3 homes built in Australia between the end of the Second World War and 1987 contain asbestos.

Because asbestos was used so widely in Australia, in public buildings and in house construction, in the shipping industry, Australia has the highest reported per capita incidence of asbestos-related disease in the world.

In October 2010 the Gillard Labor Government commissioned the Asbestos Management Review. The Government accepted and has since implemented all of the recommendations of the Review, chaired by Mr Geoff Fary.

The Gillard Labor Government has elevated asbestos to the national stage by establishing, from 1 July this year, Australia’s first national Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency which will replace the Office of Asbestos Safety. The agency will implement a comprehensive plan for action on asbestos safety and eradication, the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness.

Consistent with that record, today the Gillard Labor Government has declared that the time for talk on asbestos is over – the time for action has arrived.

The Gillard Labor Government is determined to ensure Australia is a world leader in the removal and safer management of asbestos containing materials in homes and workplaces.

No exposure means no risk – a focus on prevention and early intervention is a priority. This has underpinned the work to date of the federal work health and safety regulator Comcare.

Already, Comcare has stopped work and ordered the removal of asbestos from two sites in New South Wales; and employers have been directed to improve the supervision of the work of contractors.

All participants in the meeting in Canberra today agreed to support the establishment of a national asbestos exposure register administered by theOffice of Asbestos Safety, with assistance from Professor Baggoley, Chief Medical Officer.

The register would include:

  • Personal details of the notifier;
  • Details of the suspected asbestos exposure, including date, location and description;
  • Witness details; and
  • Details of diagnoses of asbestos-related disease/s.

All participants agreed to support an independent taskforce to monitor Telstra’s ongoing actions to prevent exposure to asbestos, including comprehensive training and supervision of contractors.

The taskforce will include senior Telstra representatives, the Office of Asbestos Safety, Comcare and workplace health and safety regulators, industry union representatives, Barry Robson (Asbestos Disease Foundation of Australia) and Geoff Fary (Chair Asbestos Management Review).

Telstra committed to provide transparent information, support and assistance to the residents of Penrith and Ballarat, who may have been exposed to asbestos.

Specifically, Telstra undertook to report back to Ministers Shorten and Conroy on:

1.     Their capacity to identify all Telstra pits that contain Asbestos Containing Materials and to make that identification public; and

2.     A program for prioritised removal of ACMs from Telstra pits.

Experts agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure. As the world’s most prolific user of asbestos containing materials, Australian businesses and governments of all levels must face up to the reality of the risk that asbestos poses to Australian workers and families.

The Gillard Labor Government is prepared to face this reality and will do so shoulder to shoulder with business, unions and the Australian community.