A new government report is calling for the removal of all construction materials containing asbestos from government and commercial buildings in Australia by the year 2030.
Releasing the report on Thursday, Minister of Workplace Relations Bill Shorten says Australia had one of the highest rates of usage of the deadly material throughout much of the 20th century and as a result has the highest reported per capita incidence of asbestos-related diseases in the world.
“More than 650 Australians are diagnosed with mesothelioma most years and experts predict that this rate will not taper off until 2022,” Shorten says. “This means that as a country we face another 10 years of increasing asbestos deaths before we begin to see the numbers start to reduce, and many more years until those diseases no longer kill large numbers of Australians.”
Despite a nationwide ban in 2003, materials containing asbestos can still be found in many older residences and public buildings.
This is usually in the form of asbestos cement (fibro) walls, both internal and external, and corrugated roofing and pipes and in many other products such as vinyl floor tiles, lagging on pipes and insulation in wood heaters.
In June, the discovery of asbestos even shut down Adelaide Parliament.
Prepared by the Asbestos Management Review Panel, the report calls on the government to develop a strategic plan for asbestos management and removal in Australia.
It also recommends that:
- a new agency be formed to oversee the plan’s implementation,
- the plan require an asbestos content report be undertaken by a competent assessor to determine and disclose the existence of ACMs in all residential properties constructed prior to 1987, at the point of sale or lease, and prior to renovation, together with a property labelling system to alert workers and potential purchasers and tenants to the presence of asbestos,
- the plan require the prioritised removal of ACMs from government and commercial buildings by 2030.
Shorten says the government will consider the recommendations ‘carefully and speedily’ to develop a prompt response, and that he expects subsequent change to be ‘substantial’.
“This report demonstrates how critical and urgent the issue is,” he says. “It is an issue for all levels of government. It is an issue that is affecting people at work, in schools, in hospitals and at home.”