Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2023

Matters of Urgency

Workplace Safety: Engineered Stone Industry

5:35 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of Senator McKim 's matter of urgency. It has been estimated 600,000 Australian tradies are exposed to silica dust every year. The stone benchtop industry is only one of many ways Australians can be exposed to silica dust. Like asbestos, it only takes a little to kill you. Silica dust is 100 times smaller than a grain of sand, and you can breathe it in without even knowing it. Exposure to asbestos took us so many years to do anything about. Exposure to silica will take just months for symptoms to show, unlike asbestos. Silicosis is not new and there have been many state and federal inquiries, but, as usual, governments have been slow to act.

According to the Australian Lung Foundation a lack of government investment in research and monitoring has made it impossible to work out how many Australians are suffering from silicosis. That is why Senator Pocock and I wanted to split out the silicosis amendment from the Closing the Loopholes bill, because it brings silica in line with asbestos and would start gathering national data. The average age of a silicosis sufferer is 35, and at 35 many would have young families. Many would more than likely be our young sons and daughters, and to have a diagnosis at that age would be utterly devastating.

In October Safe Work Australia released its report on silica. It recommends a national ban on engineered stone benchtops and a special licensing scheme for the handling of existing benchtops. It also said no level of silica is safe—not one bit—for tradies. The unions are united. Senator Pocock and I stood with representatives to call for a ban, and retailers are getting on board. Bunnings has banned it and Ikea has announced they are scrapping their stone benchtop range. We know there is a problem when retailers and the unions are moving ahead and the government is sitting on the perch.

When the Safe Work Australia report was released a month ago, Minister Burke said the government should 'act as soon as possible for people to be safe'. Well, I am wondering what the minister has been doing besides wasting time blocking his own legislation from going through the House. It is time that our federal government placed a national ban on engineered stone. There is no excuse not to. It is just rubbish. You have Labor states all over the place. Fix the problem. It can't be that hard. It has taken 100 years to do something about asbestos and you cannot waste another minute. But what is more disappointing is this is the national issue. I wonder if you have bothered to take it to national cabinet and discuss it, because, seriously, when you have all those Labor states out there, there is no longer an excuse for not getting this job done. Once again, this is another one that could have been done before Christmas time. Once again, you are sitting on the perch when it comes to safety of others in workplaces.


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