Good morning, everyone.
It is a pleasure to be with you for your national conference.
Make no mistake, the contributions made at this conference by each and every one of you, will improve the lives of many Australians.
While the use of asbestos has been banned in Australia for a long time, it continues to have a devastating impact.
More than 4,000 Australians lose their lives each year to asbestos-related diseases.
This tragic figure is simply far too high and reinforces the need for governments — at all levels — to work together to prevent exposure to asbestos fibres.
We must eliminate asbestos-related diseases in this country once and for all.
Through the work and dedication of people such as yourselves, I am confident that we will do so.
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency and its Council does important work with state and territory governments and a range of non-government bodies.
It is critical work to raise awareness and undertake a range of activities aimed at preventing exposure to asbestos fibres.
Since coming to the portfolio I have had the opportunity to meet with both the Chair of the Council, Diane Smith-Gander, and the CEO of the agency, Justine Ross, and I am most impressed with their commitment to this cause.
The Government has also demonstrated its commitment by more than doubling the agency’s funding, providing an additional $1.7 million per year on an ongoing basis.
This allows the agency to continue its important work of coordinating the implementation of the national strategic plan for asbestos management and awareness.
I am pleased to hear that significant progress has been made under the first phase of the plan.
However, it’s clear that, collectively, we still have a long way to go to end the ‘lethal legacy’ of asbestos.
To this end, the next phase of the National Strategic Plan is crucial.
It will build on the progress made to date and be informed by the lessons we have learned.
You will have an opportunity to contribute to the next phase of the National Strategic Plan by taking part in interactive workshops over the coming days.
This is also the first time a draft of the new plan will be shared with members of the public.
This is a positive step, as it is important that this second phase of the plan reflect the expectations and needs of both governments and the community at large.
I have no doubt that your input and insights will be of immense value, and I look forward to hearing about how they result in the shaping of the final plan.
I also wanted to take this opportunity to touch briefly on how the Australian Government is taking on an international leadership role when it comes to asbestos-related matters.
The Government is resolute in our commitment to prevent the illegal importation of asbestos.
Put simply, we do not want to add to the legacy burden.
Together with our partners from Home Affairs and Border Force, we adopt a strict approach to the illegal importation of asbestos.
We deploy sophisticated detection techniques and come down hard on those who seek a way round our regime.
I also want to acknowledge the important work performed by the Agency in engaging with our South-East Asian neighbours to help them better understand the dangers of asbestos and work towards imposing their own asbestos bans.
By working together to stop the use of asbestos in our region, we reduce the chance of asbestos being illegally imported into Australia.
In closing, can I again thank all of you for your efforts in helping to reduce the impact and burden of asbestos-related disease in Australia.
I wish you a productive and rewarding few days in Sydney at the 2018 Asbestos Safety and Eradication Conference.