Australia sets up national asbestos safety agency

Tuesday, 04 September, 2012

The Australian Government is setting up an Office of Asbestos Safety that will pave the way for a national approach to asbestos awareness and management in Australia, said Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten. This in response to the comprehensive Asbestos Management Review commissioned in October 2010.

The new office will be tasked with developing a national strategic plan as recommended by the Review, by 1 July 2013, Shorten said.

“As an insidious killer, asbestos is a national issue requiring urgent attention and greater national preventative coordination - so we are making a concerted effort to address it. A critical element of the recommendations is the establishment of a body to oversee how we manage asbestos in Australia and how we can reduce exposure to asbestos.”

The Review, released in Parliament on 16 August, made 12 recommendations to address asbestos issues and a national coordinated effort is now needed. A national strategic plan with the buy-in of all Australian governments and political parties will be the foundation on which these efforts can be built and directed.

“We have carefully considered the recommendations contained in the Review. The recommendations highlighted the need for a new nationally coordinated approach and national strategic plan to improve asbestos awareness and management arrangements in Australia.

“Minimising asbestos exposure is a responsibility of all levels of government. While different levels of government have individually and at times together agreed on asbestos-related measures, the sad truth is that until this Review was commissioned by the Gillard government, Australia has never genuinely contemplated a comprehensive national strategy to manage asbestos and raise awareness about it.

“We will continue to consult with state and territory governments to develop the functions, structure and funding of the new asbestos office and the content of the strategic plan,” said Shorten.

The Australian Government is committed to ensuring that asbestos management arrangements in Australia minimise the risk of avoidable exposure, and implementing a number of the recommendations in this Review will be the first step in that process.

“Australia has one of the highest rates of asbestos-related disease in the world. Our response to this Review represents our best chance to work together to eliminate asbestos-related disease in Australia. The creation of the Office of Asbestos Safety is a vital first step in that process. It will set out a road map for improving our handling of asbestos and look at the practicalities of implementing the recommendations of the Review.”

Shorten also announced a number of research projects on management and awareness of asbestos will commence in advance of the agency’s establishment. The research will include examining current infrastructure for the disposal of asbestos products and a comprehensive study of community awareness of and attitudes to asbestos. “This research will underpin the future work of the office and provide them with a head start on what I anticipate will be a considerable workload. The research that will be undertaken is consistent with the recommendations made by the review and will inform the priorities of the agency,” Shorten said.

The Asbestos Management Review Report - June 2012 report is available here.

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