Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 June 2018



7:32 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight, I rise to speak about the scourge of asbestos in this country. I want to start by going back and just reminding people that it was actually back on 31 December 2003, under then Minister Tony Abbott, that we introduced a total ban on the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of all forms of asbestos and asbestos-containing materials within Australia. A lot of people think that, having passed that law, that's the end of the issue and that asbestos should be of no further interest to lawmakers in this country.

Unfortunately, the report of the Senate Economics References Committee last year identified the fact that this issue is not going away. Materials continue to come into this country which are putting at risk the lives of Australians. Tonight, I wanted to remind the government that our report was handed down in November of last year. It is now seven months on and we have not yet seen a response from the government in relation to this very important report.

It's also important to note that the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency has been continuing to do its very important work in this area. I note that on 21 June this year they handed down a report in relation to the economic burden of asbestos related disease, and it makes pretty stark and disappointing reading. The study that they've done identified that for 2015 there were large health system and productivity costs associated with the disease. But let's put aside the human cost and the terrible health implications of asbestos related diseases. No-one would want to see even their worst enemy go through the symptoms of those diseases.

But, putting that aside, there is a huge economic cost associated with asbestos in this country, and it behoves the government to do something about this particular issue. In 2015 there were an estimated 4,152 deaths in Australia due to asbestos-related disease, and 10,444 prevalent cases of disease. This goes to things like mesothelioma, lung cancer, asbestosis and larynx cancer. As I said, there is an economic cost. It is estimated in the report prepared by the Centre for International Economics that the hospital and primary healthcare costs associated with treating asbestos-related diseases is $192 million for 2015. You can break that down into different areas but that is a huge cost to the economy. There are costs to the workforce and to the broader economy. Living with asbestos-related disease compromises an individual's ability to directly participate in the paid and unpaid workforce. These direct effects are estimated to be $321 million. You can look at the cost to individuals, in terms of the burden that they suffer living with asbestos-related disease, and they do this gruesome calculation of the sum of years lost due to disability and years of life lost due to death related to asbestos-related disease. So they have come up with a calculation of disability adjusted life years. At the moment, it is estimated to be 58,077 disability adjusted life years. There is a monetary cost, there's a cost to the economy but there's a terrible, terrible human cost. So we are calling on the government to act on this report, and I'm sure that there is a measure of bipartisan support for something to be done in this area. I commend Michael Borowick, the assistant secretary of the ACTU for his tireless advocacy in this area, and I commend to the government some of the recommendations that Senate Economics References Committee handed down in the nonconforming building products report, particularly in relation to our interim report. We talked about the ACCC doing something to look at compulsory recalls— (Time expired)