Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023

Questions without Notice

Workplace Relations: Silicosis

2:16 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Shoebridge. I know this is an issue you've had a longstanding interest in, as have many of us who've been concerned about worker safety, particularly in the construction industry where this applies most. I agree with you, Senator Shoebridge, that this is something that should have been dealt with a long, long time ago. A lot of people have been on notice that this is a problem and is a very serious health risk. I've heard it referred to as the asbestosis of this generation, and that is certainly what it looks like. And that's exactly why our government is taking action to finally fix this once and for all.

As you would probably be aware, Senator Shoebridge, in late February—28 February this year—Minister Burke, as the responsible minister, met with work health and safety ministers to consider Safe Work Australia's decision regulation impact statement to better manage the risks of silica dust within the workplace. At that meeting, ministers unanimously agreed to a national approach to dealing with the spike in silicosis and silica related diseases in workers from harmful exposure of respirable crystalline silica. Ministers agreed to a range of reforms as a priority, based on recommendations from Safe Work Australia. These recommendation included the delivery of national awareness and behaviour-change initiatives, stronger regulation of high-risk crystalline silica processes for all materials across all industries and further analysis and consultation by Safe Work on a prohibition on the use of engineered stone under the model workplace health and safety laws, including consideration of a licensing scheme for legacy and nonprohibited projects to be completed within six months.

Ministers also noted the Commonwealth's intent to explore an importation ban on engineered stone and its effects. Minister Burke's department is now working with states and territories and other stakeholders as part of the scoping work. We recognise the need to act quickly, and ministers will meet again to discuss silicosis as soon as practicable after Safe Work completes its work. (Time expired)


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