Statement: Asbestos Related Diseases

30 November 2016

Tomorrow the Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease will hold an informal reception here at Parliament House to remember those we have lost to asbestos related disease, those who still suffer from that disease, and their families and carers. I would like to take a moment to thank my friend the member for Perth, who spent most of his former career in the legal fraternity seeking justice for victims, and the parliamentary group for organising this event.

Australia has one of the highest global rates of asbestos related disease; in fact, we are second only to the United Kingdom. In 2014 we lost 641 Australians to this killer, taking the toll since the early eighties to 10,000. The people we have lost are mostly men aged between 70 and 90. They were the miners, the boilermakers, the power plant workers, the carpenters, the railway workers and the naval workers of the 1950s, sixties and seventies, when asbestos use was at its peak. Cancer experts say we can expect to lose another 25,000 people over the decades to come.

While the importation of asbestos is banned in Australia, there have been reports of suspected contamination of more than 50 building sites across the nation as a result of illegal asbestos imports from China. That was why Labor pushed to establish a Senate inquiry into the illegal importation of asbestos, enacting an election commitment to combat one of the most serious threats to occupational health and safety in Australia. The re-establishment of the inquiry into non-conforming building products will now include a specific focus on asbestos importation. This is vital. We need to ensure that a total ban on asbestos is legislated and enforced. The inquiry will receive submissions and contributions from a range of stakeholders, enabling the committee to make recommendations on the policing of our borders to keep Australians safe. We believe this inquiry should hear from employers, employer groups and unions but it should also hear from support organisations that represent the very people who have been deeply and personally affected by the tragic consequences of asbestos exposure.

Having just lost my own father to mesothelioma, this cause is very close to my heart. My father had worked hard all of his life down the mines at BHP and in building our home at Heddon Greta. He remained stoic and good-humoured to the end and we miss him dearly. Mesothelioma is a horrible disease. It causes a prolonged and terrible death, which I have witnessed firsthand in recent months. Those last few weeks for my father were particularly awful. He was taken from us prematurely. We have a sense of loss. But that loss is compounded by anger and bitterness that his death and the deaths of thousands like him were totally preventable. We must be vigilant. (Time expired)