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September 19, 2018

Labor vows to remove asbestos from 1200 schools

$50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that poses an immediate risk to students and teachers.

$50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that poses an immediate risk to students and teachers. Photo: Rob Gunstone

Asbestos in 1200 Victorian state schools would be removed by 2020 under an “ambitious” $100 million Labor Party plan.

Again visiting a marginal sand-belt seat, Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews made a pitch to parents, vowing to conduct a full audit of state government schools to identify asbestos and remove it.

The Sunday Age reported this week that teachers and principals had made an election-eve plea for asbestos to be fully removed from all schools after a secret state government audit found some are so plagued with the material that buildings need to be cordoned off or cleaned up immediately.

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Of the 368 audits released, only 30 schools were asbestos-free.

Under Mr Andrews’ plan, $50 million would be spent on audits and removing asbestos that posed an immediate risk to students and teachers.

Another $50 million would be spent to accelerate the retirement and replacement of 250 old portable classrooms which are not part of Labor’s $510 million capital works program already outlined.

Labor conceded it was an “ambitious target” and that $100 million was a down payment for the first stage.

Labor education spokesman James Merlino said the Napthine government had dropped the ball on asbestos in schools over the past four years.

“What kind of message does it send to parents and to school communities that you have stickers across our school buildings, across Victoria, saying there is deadly asbestos and then do nothing about it?” Mr Merlino said.

But the Coalition said the plan was an under-costed hoax and Mr Andrews did not understand the facts.

“If ‘Dodgy Dan’ had proper costings, he would know that the cost of removing asbestos from schools is closer to $1 billion than $100 million,” a Coalition spokesman said.

“If he did his homework he would know that there are hundreds of audits of schools, and under this government funding for asbestos removal has more than doubled.”

The government said schools had asbestos management plans and conducted three-monthly checks, with training provided to key staff.

Victorian Principals Association president Gabrielle Leigh welcomed the announcement, and said principals would be pleased a government would finally take responsibility for asbestos in schools.

“I’m hoping $100 million actually covers it. We’ve been calling on the government about asbestos and asbestos labelling and how schools need support for this,” she said.

Ms Leigh said schools didn’t have the resources to properly deal with the problem.

Oakleigh Primary School and Kindergarten would be one of the beneficiaries of the funding.

Principal Jack Fisher said the asbestos had to be constantly monitored in case of damage.

“This has been an ongoing issue for many decades,” he said.

Mr Fisher said removing asbestos in government schools was just the tip of the iceberg.

“I’m conscious of the fact that asbestos is most likely in a number of public buildings, including early childhood centres, kindergartens, independent schools, community centres and other government buildings,” he said.

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Labor vows to remove asbestos from 1200 schools

Axing of asbestos watchdog shocks head

Axing of asbestos watchdog shocks head

NationalPolitical News

Date

Finance Minister Senator Mathias Cormann

Said the agencies facing the axe are considered by the Coalition to be “window dressing”: Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

A battle is looming over the fate of the federal government’s Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, which was earmarked for axing in the budget papers.

National asbestos support groups, lawyers and unions say the public will suffer continued deadly exposure if the agency is abolished.

An estimated 40,000 people are expected to die in a third wave of asbestos-related disease following contact with the carcinogen in their homes and workplaces.

The national commission of audit recommended this month that the only federal body addressing asbestos management and safety be abolished as a cost-saving measure.

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Axing of asbestos watchdog shocks head

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency faces the chop

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Mr Tighe has spent nine months in the new job and has already taken a particular interest in Canberra’s pressing problem of 1050 homes containing remnant loose amosite asbestos in the form of Mr Fluffy insulation. Mr Tighe has labelled these homes unliveable and has called on the ACT and Commonwealth governments to come together to seek a solution for affected families.

Meanwhile, asbestos disease support groups have warned of the human cost of abandoning a whole-of-government approach and accused the Coalition of a split over the issue.

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency head Peter Tighe.

Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency head Peter Tighe. Photo: Louie Douvis

When Labor set up the agency last year following the recommendations of a two-year review into Australia’s asbestos problems, it received bipartisan support from the Coalition.

At the time the legislation was being tabled, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz told the Senate: “Now that we as a community are fully aware of all the dangers of asbestos and the effects that it has on people exposed to it, it makes good sense for all sides of politics and for unions and employers to join together to try to overcome the legacy issues that are clearly out there. Those legacy issues will remain with us as a country for at least another 30 years.”

Senator Abetz also highlighted the flaws in the existing approach to asbestos management throughout Australia. “The involvement of multiple governments across these diverse areas means that efforts to date to address asbestos issues have been fragmented and duplicative,” he said.

Senator Abetz is now the Employment Minister in charge of the agency. A spokeswoman said on Thursday: “The Commission of Audit’s proposals are recommendations to government; they are not recommendations by government. No decisions have yet been made in relation to the agency. The government remains committed to working with the states and territories to remove asbestos risks and this will not change.”

But seven asbestos disease support groups – including the Bernie Banton Foundation, Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia and the Asbestos Victims Association – warned there would be a human cost of abandoning a whole-of-government approach. They are joined by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, which has also called for continued funding of the agency to maintain safeguards for workers.

Australia has the highest per capita rate of asbestos diseases in the world, with the deadly substance still found in millions of homes and workplaces.

Asbestos has claimed the lives of more than 33,000 Australians, and the groups said in a joint statement “an independent, national agency is a significant step in the fight against asbestos diseases, providing a strong, focused, consistent, co-ordinated national approach to improved asbestos education and removal activities”.

ACT Work Safety Commissioner Mark McCabe, who is the local appointee to the agency, said it would be “a huge loss if the agency folded”.

“It is co-ordinating a national response to the management of asbestos and taking a leadership role to ensure it is done appropriately,” he said. “Without that, the potential is a continued fragmented approach to what is one of the most serious safety issues confronting our society”.

The head of the Fluffy Owners and Residents Action Group Brianna Heseltine said the agency had played a vital role in informing owners and residents about Mr Fluffy’s troubling legacy on their homes.

“Mr Tighe’s call for the demolition of our homes put Canberra on high alert about the serious health risks posed by the likelihood of ongoing loose-fill asbestos contamination, and drew attention to the absence of legislative protections for residents,” she said. “The ACT government’s February 18 letter was conspicuously silent on the main issue at stake for our community – health – focusing instead on the increased burdens owners must bear when carrying out even minor internal works.

“Owners and residents are likely to feel left high and dry if the agency is abolished only weeks after putting this vital issue on the map.”











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Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency faces the chop

NBN asbestos problems, 457 visas and republics – politics live blog

The Opposition leader Tony Abbott was out briefly on the doors of parliament a little while ago. He was asked about how he intended to implement the Coalition’s policy of turning back people smugglers’ boats when it is safe to do so.

(This issue became sticky for the Coalition last Friday when the Indonesian Ambassador to Australia indicated there was no agreement to turn boats back. Defence officials have already queried whether this pledge is workable in practice.)

In an interview with Guardian Australia political editor, Lenore Taylor, Shadow Foreign Minister Julie Bishop counsels that all will be well, whatever the Indonesians might be saying to the contrary. ‘It’s the relationship stupid.’ Here’s Lenore’s piece.

This is an excerpt:

High-ranking Indonesian ministers and officials have indicated privately that Indonesia would cooperate with a Coalition government to turn back people smuggler boats insists Julie Bishop, the foreign affairs spokeswoman and deputy Liberal leader, despite the country’s ambassador claiming publicly that “no such collaboration will happen.”

“I have had a number of conversations with high-ranking Indonesian ministers and officials, as has [immigration spokesman] Scott Morrison as has [Coalition leader] Tony Abbott and I am convinced we can work in cooperation with Indonesia to achieve our policy aim,” Bishop said in a wide-ranging foreign policy interview with Guardian Australia.

Tony Abbott is also on the ‘all will be well’ theme. The Coalition has a strong and constructive relationship with Indonesia, Abbott says.

Here’s the relevant sections from his press conference this morning.

QUESTION: Mr Abbott are you prepared to defy the Indonesian Government to turn boats back there even though their Ambassador on Friday made it clear that they don’t want to accept them?

TONY ABBOTT: Look, we’re very confident that we can have a strong and constructive relationship with the Indonesian Government. I’ve had several meetings with the President. I’m met with Foreign Minister Natalegawa. I have a good and strong relationship with Ambassador Nadjib. Julie Bishop obviously spends an enormous amount of time working with the Indonesians, as does Scott Morrison. So we are very confident that an incoming Coalition government won’t repeat the kind of mistakes that we’ve seen from the current government of which the absolute worst was the suspension of the live cattle trade in a state of panic over a TV programme.

QUESTION: You’re talking about the willingness to turn boats around now. Is that different to the reality of turning boats around? Will you actually turn around any boats?

TONY ABBOTT: The Howard Government turned boats around. It wasn’t a large number, but it was enough to send an absolutely crystal clear signal to the people smugglers and their clients that the game was up and that the Australian Government and people would no longer be played for mugs.

QUESTION: How long do you think it will take to stop the boats?

TONY ABBOTT: We will make a difference from day one, from day one we will make a difference and obviously we will be judged on our results – should we win this election – at the subsequent one.

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NBN asbestos problems, 457 visas and republics – politics live blog

Asbestos breaches uncovered at Qld NBN sites

The asbestos scare at Telstra sites being prepared for the National Broadband Network (NBN) has spread to Queensland, with the State Government saying asbestos-handling breaches have been identified at three locations.

There have already been five potential cases of exposure of the deadly material in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and a complaint about a potential safety breach in Tasmania.

Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the discovery of asbestos at four sites at Ballarat in central Victoria, and the ABC has also located a fifth site.

The sites in Ballarat are near a primary school, a suburban street and several businesses.

So far Telstra has only confirmed asbestos has been potentially exposed at three sites in Penrith, in western Sydney, as Telstra contractors rolled out fibre optic cables for the NBN through old telecommunications pits.

Workplace Health and Safety officers say the breaches in Queensland were at the Brisbane suburbs of Banyo and Carseldine and in the northern city of Mackay over the past three months.

State Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says the revelations are “extremely disturbing”.

“At Carseldine, high-pressure water was used to clean a telecommunications pit containing asbestos. Debris was observed on the faces and clothes of two workers,” he said in a statement.

“In the other instances, asbestos-contaminated dust was left uncontained for five days in Mackay and incorrect safety equipment was used at Banyo.”

The contractors involved have been issued with prohibition and improvement notices, but Mr Bleijie says that is not good enough.

“With an infrastructure program as big as the NBN, a strong, national workplace safety plan should have been in place right from the start,” he said.

“I have written to the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten seeking urgent assurances about the safety of Queenslanders living near telecommunication pits and information on procedures that have been put in place to protect workers who may potentially deal with asbestos.

“As a state regulator we will provide whatever assistance we can to improve contractor management of asbestos in Queensland but the Federal Government has an obligation to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for its own projects.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the Commonwealth had not heard about potential exposure in Queensland until the State Government sent out a media release.

“We’ll be looking into those to see whether or not they’re Telstra remediation pits or NBN Co work towards installing, but at this stage we have no other information than what you’ve seen publicly,” he said.

Telstra vows ‘zero tolerance’ on safety breaches

Earlier today, Mr Shorten

He has praised Telstra’s commitment to improve the situation but says he is not happy that the company cannot identify exactly how many sites may be involved.

“Telstra can’t tell us absolutely the answer,” Mr Shorten said.

“But there’s 8 million pits. The numbers range, they tell us -  between 10 and 20 per cent of these pits may have asbestos containing materials in them.

“Obviously not all of them are to be used in the NBN rollout process.”

Telstra chief executive David Thodey says the company will be talking to contractors about how the issue has been handled.

“There is zero tolerance; zero tolerance for all of us,” he said.

“This is a very serious issue and we need to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

Mr Thodey says Telstra usually does “random testing” on pits because “that is the practical way to do it”.

“Over the NBN project we’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of pits to remediate,” he said.

“But we usually do spot checking in terms of the order because you can’t test every pit.”

Gillard, Abbott exchange barbs during Question Time

The issue dominated Question Time, with the Coalition attempting to pressure the Government over the issue.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott began by asking Prime Minister Julia Gillard whether $50 million spent on advertising the NBN “could have been better spent ensuring that communities … were protected from exposure to asbestos”.

Ms Gillard accused him of playing politics and said it was “disgraceful”.

“As he well knows this is a matter involving pits and ducts and those pits and ducts are the responsibility of Telstra,” she said.

“The Leader of the Opposition well knows that, but has chosen to play politics with this important matter nevertheless.

“I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised given this is the man who insulted Bernie Banton on his death bed – we shouldn’t be surprised at all.”

In the 2007 election campaign, Mr Abbott was forced to apologise to asbestos activist and mesothelioma victim Mr Banton, after questioning his motives.

“Let’s be up front about this, I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things,” Mr Abbott said at the time.

He later said Mr Banton had a “thoroughly admirable commitment” to the cause.

But the Opposition persisted with questions to Mr Shorten over whether he has paid enough attention to the issue, given Telstra and NBN Co had known asbestos could be a danger in the rollout since June 2011.

Mr Shorten said he wrote to Telstra in 2009 “to say that there were people reporting that there were problems with pits”.

“Telstra wrote back and said they had the matter under control,” he added.

“We’ve seen in recent days and weeks that clearly they haven’t.”

Mr Shorten responded to further questioning from Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull about the letter, accusing the Coalition of making the issue a “political football”.

“I met with a family whose 11-week-old child may have been exposed to asbestos,” he said.

“This is a very serious matter. This is why I do not believe it is appropriate that we use the exposure of asbestos in a political way.

“It actually should be above politics.”

Mr Shorten later responded to interjections from the Opposition benches by saying: “What is it about asbestos that you think is the need to pollute with your political palaver?”

The Government will work to set up a new asbestos register for those people concerned they may have been exposed to the deadly material.

A bill to set up a new asbestos agency passed the House of Representatives today.

The NBN is a $37.4 billion project which is expected to take 10 years to complete.

It will provide high-speed broadband access to all Australian homes and businesses via three technologies: optic fibre, fixed wireless and next-generation satellite.

See original article – 

Asbestos breaches uncovered at Qld NBN sites

Asbestos breaches uncovered at NBN sites

The asbestos scare at Telstra sites being prepared for the National Broadband Network (NBN) has spread to Queensland, with the State Government saying asbestos-handling breaches have been identified at three locations.

There have already been five potential cases of exposure of the deadly material in New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and a complaint about a potential safety breach in Tasmania.

Meanwhile, authorities are investigating the discovery of asbestos at four sites at Ballarat in central Victoria, and the ABC has also located a fifth site.

The sites in Ballarat are near a primary school, a suburban street and several businesses.

So far Telstra has only confirmed asbestos has been potentially exposed at three sites in Penrith, in western Sydney, as Telstra contractors rolled out fibre optic cables for the NBN through old telecommunications pits.

Workplace Health and Safety officers say the breaches in Queensland were at the Brisbane suburbs of Banyo and Carseldine and in the northern city of Mackay over the past three months.

State Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie says the revelations are “extremely disturbing”.

“At Carseldine, high-pressure water was used to clean a telecommunications pit containing asbestos. Debris was observed on the faces and clothes of two workers,” he said in a statement.

“In the other instances, asbestos-contaminated dust was left uncontained for five days in Mackay and incorrect safety equipment was used at Banyo.”

The contractors involved have been issued with prohibition and improvement notices, but Mr Bleijie says that is not good enough.

“With an infrastructure program as big as the NBN, a strong, national workplace safety plan should have been in place right from the start,” he said.

“I have written to the Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten seeking urgent assurances about the safety of Queenslanders living near telecommunication pits and information on procedures that have been put in place to protect workers who may potentially deal with asbestos.

“As a state regulator we will provide whatever assistance we can to improve contractor management of asbestos in Queensland but the Federal Government has an obligation to ensure appropriate safeguards are in place for its own projects.”

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy says the Commonwealth had not heard about potential exposure in Queensland until the State Government sent out a media release.

“We’ll be looking into those to see whether or not they’re Telstra remediation pits or NBN Co work towards installing, but at this stage we have no other information than what you’ve seen publicly,” he said.

Telstra vows ‘zero tolerance’ on safety breaches

Earlier today, Mr Shorten

He has praised Telstra’s commitment to improve the situation but says he is not happy that the company cannot identify exactly how many sites may be involved.

“Telstra can’t tell us absolutely the answer,” Mr Shorten said.

“But there’s 8 million pits. The numbers range, they tell us -  between 10 and 20 per cent of these pits may have asbestos containing materials in them.

“Obviously not all of them are to be used in the NBN rollout process.”

Telstra chief executive David Thodey says the company will be talking to contractors about how the issue has been handled.

“There is zero tolerance; zero tolerance for all of us,” he said.

“This is a very serious issue and we need to make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

Mr Thodey says Telstra usually does “random testing” on pits because “that is the practical way to do it”.

“Over the NBN project we’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of pits to remediate,” he said.

“But we usually do spot checking in terms of the order because you can’t test every pit.”

Gillard, Abbott exchange barbs during Question Time

The issue dominated Question Time, with the Coalition attempting to pressure the Government over the issue.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott began by asking Prime Minister Julia Gillard whether $50 million spent on advertising the NBN “could have been better spent ensuring that communities … were protected from exposure to asbestos”.

Ms Gillard accused him of playing politics and said it was “disgraceful”.

“As he well knows this is a matter involving pits and ducts and those pits and ducts are the responsibility of Telstra,” she said.

“The Leader of the Opposition well knows that, but has chosen to play politics with this important matter nevertheless.

“I suppose we really shouldn’t be surprised given this is the man who insulted Bernie Banton on his death bed – we shouldn’t be surprised at all.”

In the 2007 election campaign, Mr Abbott was forced to apologise to asbestos activist and mesothelioma victim Mr Banton, after questioning his motives.

“Let’s be up front about this, I know Bernie is very sick, but just because a person is sick doesn’t necessarily mean that he is pure of heart in all things,” Mr Abbott said at the time.

He later said Mr Banton had a “thoroughly admirable commitment” to the cause.

But the Opposition persisted with questions to Mr Shorten over whether he has paid enough attention to the issue, given Telstra and NBN Co had known asbestos could be a danger in the rollout since June 2011.

Mr Shorten said he wrote to Telstra in 2009 “to say that there were people reporting that there were problems with pits”.

“Telstra wrote back and said they had the matter under control,” he added.

“We’ve seen in recent days and weeks that clearly they haven’t.”

Mr Shorten responded to further questioning from Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull about the letter, accusing the Coalition of making the issue a “political football”.

“I met with a family whose 11-week-old child may have been exposed to asbestos,” he said.

“This is a very serious matter. This is why I do not believe it is appropriate that we use the exposure of asbestos in a political way.

“It actually should be above politics.”

Mr Shorten later responded to interjections from the Opposition benches by saying: “What is it about asbestos that you think is the need to pollute with your political palaver?”

The Government will work to set up a new asbestos register for those people concerned they may have been exposed to the deadly material.

A bill to set up a new asbestos agency passed the House of Representatives today.

The NBN is a $37.4 billion project which is expected to take 10 years to complete.

It will provide high-speed broadband access to all Australian homes and businesses via three technologies: optic fibre, fixed wireless and next-generation satellite.

More:

Asbestos breaches uncovered at NBN sites