House debates

Tuesday, 16 March 2010



8:34 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today I presented a petition of more than 1,000 signatures to the secretariat of the Standing Committee on Petitions calling on this parliament to lead international efforts to ban the mining, sale and use of all forms of asbestos throughout the world. We are all aware of the deadly effects of asbestos and asbestos products. For instance, the Bernie Banton Foundation estimates that in just over 10 years some 40,000 Australian will have contracted asbestos related cancer.

It is an absolute disgrace that, despite everything that is known about the dangers of asbestos, countries such as Canada continue to export this deadly product. According to the British Columbia Building and Construction Trade’s Occupation Health and Safety Council, Canada exports 120,000 tonnes of asbestos to India and other countries in South Asia. Moreover, Canada continues to block international efforts to list chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam treaty, which requires importing countries to be warned of risks associated with hazardous substances and products.

The vast majority of developed countries throughout the world have banned the use of asbestos and asbestos products. However, far too many developing countries, particularly in the South Asia region, import this deadly substance because they are unaware of its dangerous effects. The failure to list chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam treaty is a major reason for this. Dr Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Public Health and Environment of the World Health Organisation told delegates at the 2006 Conference of Parties to the Rotterdam Convention:

In order to protect the health of their people, countries must have information and tools to make decisions on which chemicals and pesticides can be used safely in local conditions, and if they are to be used, how they may be used safely …

Following the failure of the 2006 conference to list chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam treaty, Achim Steiner of the United Nations Environment Program said:

The lack of a decision at this time to list chrysotile asbestos raises concerns for many developing countries that need to protect their citizens from the well-known risks of this hazardous substance.

I believe that we need to go further than simply listing chrysotile asbestos under the Rotterdam convention. Two years ago one of my constituents, Mr Ray van den Nieuwenhof, travelled to Canada, where he met with the head of the British Columbia building and construction trades council, Wayne Peppard. Mr van den Nieuwenhof was told that the Canadian government allows mining of chrysotile asbestos in Quebec and has bullied governments in developing countries to import the deadly substance, claiming that it is safe to use.

For far too long Australia and Australian companies knowingly exposed many people to the deadly effects of asbestos. For instance, Matt Peacock details the disgusting and disgraceful behaviour of James Hardie executives in the book Killer Company. According to Mr Peacock, James Hardie management kept files on employees’ health and thousands of X-rays of their lungs. If the inspirational legacy of Bernie Banton teaches us anything, it is that we must not be afraid to speak out and act when injustices are taking place. Just as Bernie stood up to James Hardie, this parliament must stand up to countries such as Canada and others in the wider international community to ban the mining, sale and use of asbestos throughout the world. Over a thousand residents in my electorate have signed a petition calling for Australia to lead international efforts to achieve this worthy and important objective.

In the moments I have remaining I wish to share with the House some of the messages I have received from constituents who signed the petition. Ms Marianna Grillo of Abbotsford wrote that she is thankful the government is working hard to support people like her father, who is a victim of asbestosis but is thankfully still with his family. Ms Elvira Musolino of Concord thanks the government for fighting against such a cruel injustice and for trying to put plans in place to prevent this from ever happening again. This petition is not the end of my fight. Earlier this year, I spoke of the need for a national awareness campaign to ensure that all Australians understand the risks asbestos poses to them and their families. I also suggested that the government consider establishing a national body to coordinate the removal of all asbestos products and asbestos-containing materials from public places. Tonight I renew my call for more to be done to assist sufferers of asbestosis and to prevent a repeat of this modern-day industrial catastrophe. (Time expired)