Asbestos Awareness Week - Speech to House of Representatives (13/02/2012)

09 January 2013

jonesparl.jpgI am pleased to follow the member for Gippsland and join the member for Page in speaking on this motion tonight noting Asbestos Awareness Week. I would also pay tribute to a couple of activists on this issue from my own electorate of Throsby in New South Wales, in particular our local branch member Jim David, who spoke very passionately on this matter at a branch meeting that I attended a few weeks ago and urged me to raise this matter in parliament. I do so willingly. Shirley Sheed, who is a local activist from Port Kembla and a very strong activist in the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia has been putting her time and energy behind this issue for many, many decades.

The battle for justice for victims of asbestos diseases is very important to me personally, and I have been engaged in it for many years as well. Like many Australians and many people in this place, I have lost friends to the horrible disease of mesothelioma and have family members who suffer from asbestos related diseases. I am proud to have followed in the footsteps of those before me in the Australian union movement who have been campaigning on asbestos since the 1960s.

As I have already noted in this place, in 2005 I had the great honour to go to work with the ACTU as part of their legal team in negotiating with James Hardie and their representatives in the campaign and ultimate settlement to bring some justice to the sufferers who have asbestos related diseases.

Campaigning for justice against James Hardie, a company that sought to abdicate both their responsibilities in relation to asbestos products and their social responsibilities, was a defining experience in my life. I met many great Australians, including Bernie Banton and his wife and many other brave Australians who campaigned hard to get justice for themselves while they were suffering from those terrible diseases.

Tonight I want to talk briefly about the point that is raised in paragraph (7) of the member for Page's motion. It is about the international situation, and Canada in particular. It is a great shame that, while asbestos is virtually banned for use in Canada, that country continues to trade in white asbestos to India and indeed accounts for about 95 per cent of the international trade in asbestos products. In doing this, Canada relies on the fact that asbestos use is legal in India. What we know about the export of asbestos from Canada and other countries is that the products are being exported not to the First World but rather to developing countries, countries that can least afford the health impacts of asbestos related diseases now and for many decades into the future.

The member for Gippsland mentioned the threat that is posed to home renovators. You do not have to walk far in my suburb to see houses, sheds, garages, fences and roofs made out of asbestos and asbestos products. I have a great fear that the long tail of asbestos related diseases will be with us for some time to come. I echo the concerns and sentiments of the member for Gippsland and the member for Page in this regard. Accordingly, I think it is a great shame that the Canadian government continues to support the asbestos industry, because we know that each day that the export of asbestos related products goes on prolongs the suffering and the disease that is created when those products are put into the economy and into people's suburbs.

It is a catastrophic situation for the people of India. The true costs of asbestos are being hidden from the people of India. If the hidden medical costs were properly taken into account, there is no way that asbestos would continue to be seen and used as a cheap building material.

For these reasons, I am proud to add my voice in support of this motion and to urge all other members in this place to support it and to get behind the recently formed Parliamentary Group on Asbestos Related Disease, to raise awareness and advocacy and urge further action, parliamentary and otherwise, to fight the scourge that is asbestos and asbestos related disease. I commend the motion to the House.