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August 04, 2016

More evidence has emerged from an independent review by Swedish firm KHG Border Services that backs Labor’s calls for the Turnbull Liberal Government to immediately act on the illegal importation of asbestos.

Asbestos safety is a fundamental issue that should stand above partisan politics, and it is imperative that the Government act to protect Australia’s crucial anti-asbestos campaign as established by Labor when last in Government.  

It is unacceptable that Australian workers are being exposed to this deadly product following the importation of cheap materials from Chinese companies, because Australia’s Border Force faces constraints on time and resources.  

The Abbott-Turnbull Government’s response to the repeated examples of illegal asbestos importation has been wholly inadequate.

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.

Before the election Labor committed that we will move to establish a Senate committee inquiry into the illegal importation of asbestos. Labor will propose that the committee inquiry be wide-ranging and include a specific review of the Customs Act to ensure its provisions adequately regulate the importation of asbestos.

Labor expects that the scope of the inquiry will enable the committee to make recommendations concerning the policing of our borders and on keeping Australia free of this insidious substance.

Given the consequences of asbestos being contained in building products, without the knowledge of the builder or occupant, Labor again calls for the Government to significantly increase the penalties available. Presently the penalty is only a fine of $170,000.  

In February 2016, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection announced that Australian Border Force (ABF) had initiated an independent review of Australia’s asbestos border control management, which was to examine the effectiveness of Australia’s asbestos border control as enforced by the ABF.

However, this “independent inquiry”, was conducted over just four weeks, had narrowly constructed terms of reference and did not consult with all affected parties.

Safe Work Australia concedes that “Despite being a prohibited import in Australia, goods containing asbestos are still being located at the Australian border”.

In 2013 the former Labor Government established the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) because we recognised the importance of dealing with the extremely significant risks asbestos poses to the community.  The CEO of the ASEA, Peter Tighe, describes the emerging problem of asbestos importation as growing exponentially, as more products are being brought into the country.

Australia has one of the highest global rates of asbestos-related diseases and more Australians die each year from asbestos-related diseases than the number of our fellow citizens killed in road accidents.

Labor stands with these workers that have been unfairly exposed to this deadly product and understands the stress and uncertainty they are facing.  

If the Government doesn’t act immediately, it will again confirm the Liberals’ utter contempt for the safety and wellbeing of Australian workers.