ABF cracks down on imported asbestos-laced building products
The Australian Border Force (ABF) is targeting the importation of building products that are at risk of containing asbestos, as asbestos is a prohibited import in Australia. Between 1 July 2020 and 21 March 2021, the ABF served 102 infringement notices, totalling $902,918. Asbestos has been detected in building materials such as cement fibreboards and panels, pre-fabricated housing kits, cut stone and tiles. Parts, components and structural goods designed to resist heat or flammability may be of particular risk.
Breathing in asbestos fibres can have devastating health effects and is known to cause asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Asbestos is a Tier 1 good under Customs Regulation 2015 and carries significant penalties for its unlawful importation. Asbestos importation by individuals can result in fines of up to $222,000 or three times the value of the goods, whichever is greater, and/or imprisonment for up to five years. For a body corporate the same offence attracts a penalty of up to $1,110,000 or 15 times the value of the goods, whichever is greater, in accordance with the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth).
Assistant Minister for Customs, Community Safety and Multicultural Affairs the Hon Jason Wood said the ABF details instances of asbestos detected in imported goods on the ABF website, on the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency website and in the ABF’s quarterly Goods Compliance Update, to advise the industry of emerging asbestos risks. Wood urged importers to consider if they may be unintentionally bringing in asbestos and to consider whether the country of manufacture allows any use of asbestos in the goods they are importing.
“The intention is not to hold up any legitimate and safe building materials, particularly during this housing boom which boosts our economy; the intention rather is to protect the Australian community from asbestos,” said Wood.
Australia is among a few countries in the Asia–Pacific region that has a comprehensive ban on all six types of asbestos; the ABF also guards against the importation of asbestos. ABF Assistant Secretary Brett Cox called for importers and customs brokers to be aware of Australia’s asbestos import prohibition.
“Before goods are imported into Australia, importers must have adequate documentary evidence to be able to show the ABF that their goods, if at risk, do not contain asbestos. This can be achieved by engaging with their overseas suppliers before purchase. Importers must not assume that goods contain no asbestos. An asbestos-free declaration, on its own, is not evidence,” said Cox.
Importers should also be able to demonstrate that they have undertaken adequate assessment for their goods that are known to be at risk of containing asbestos, or are imported from countries with asbestos-using industries. If importers are not able to provide the ABF with appropriate evidence and assurance that their imported goods do not contain asbestos, the importer will be directed under the Customs Act 1901 to have the building materials sampled and tested to asbestos, prior to release, at their expense. Goods that test positive for asbestos will be disposed of.
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