Workplace minister Bill Shorten and communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy with Mike Quigley CEO of NBN Co and David Thodey CEO of Telstra Right at a meeting about asbestos associated with the NBN rollout at Parliament House.

Workplace minister Bill Shorten and communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy with Mike Quigley CEO of NBN Co and David Thodey CEO of Telstra Right at a meeting about asbestos associated with the NBN rollout at Parliament House. Photo: Andrew Meares

Every now and then a serious issue arises and the responses from those in authority beggars belief. ; The current NBN asbestos debacle is one of these.

To assess the seriousness of this issue, some context is necessary, the most infamous asbestos related diseases, mesothelioma, is a painful, debilitating and terminal disease caused by breathing in microscopic asbestos fibres.


Governments, companies and unions were all complicit with, and implicated in, the production, manufacture and spreading of asbestos.

There is no safe level of exposure to these killer fibres and even worse, there are no cures for any of the diseases they cause.

For over half a century it has not been acceptable for the main players to argue that they did not know of the dangers and the damage asbestos causes in humans.

Advertisement

When defending cases for damages and compensation, companies and governments regularly lose their cases.

This is because the relevant courts and tribunals reject their purile pleas of ignorance and their contrived defences.

It is against that backdrop that the current round of official “outrage” in the NBN affair should be assessed.

The major players’ responses in this case typify our nation’s official attitude to asbestos, they are entirely consistent with the nonsense we have been hearing for nearly 80 years.

The response formula is entirely predictable and goes like this: first deny liability, then blame shift and if really pinned down, form a committee, establish lists, protocols, dodge, duck, avoid accepting responsibility and squib taking any meaningful action.

Any other product that had killed and disabled as many people as asbestos has would have prompted strong, determined action from every level of government years ago.

But this just does not happen, so why are we confronted with the current debacle?

Governments, companies and unions were all complicit with, and implicated in, the production, manufacture and spreading of asbestos.

That prior involvement precludes them from ever being able to take any effective actions on this issue.

For example, it is impossible that the owners of the asbestos infrastructure did not know they owned it.

It is equally impossible for the previous owners (the government, their communications departments and businesses) not to know about the contamination, because they put it there.

Communications workers who worked in and around this infrastructure over the last half a century must have been exposed to the killer product asbestos.

But nobody seemed to care.

However now the mix of the big name – the NBN and the intense media interest it draws combine to make this round of asbestos exposure newsworthy – therefore outrage must be expressed and something must be seen to be done.

The bigger question is why has nothing been done to date?

Why did it only become an issue when the media got hold of it?

Did the owners and the government not notice anything in the media about asbestos in the last 50 years?

If they did, why did it not prompt them to take any remedial action?

And if they haven’t noticed any of it – what planet were they living on?

When the big time players were in courts around the land defending themselves and their companies, why didn’t someone in authority take any action to identify asbestos contamination in our country and remove it?

Why did no government minister for telecommunications order the entire removal of this dangerous product?

Why did none of the hundreds of safety agencies notice this stuff over the last fifty years that it has been there?

There are so many questions, so many headlines and so few answers.

The biggest question that remains unanswered for me is why none of the people who caused this problem are in jail.

They should be.

;