Asbestos 'time bomb' warning for Illawarra: MP

Throsby MP Stephen Jones.
Throsby MP Stephen Jones.

The Illawarra community will be left to shoulder the "time bomb" of deteriorating asbestos buildings if the federal government axes the agency charged with asbestos safety and management, Throsby MP Stephen Jones has warned.

Federal budget papers have earmarked the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency for the axe, despite estimates that some 40,000 Australians could die in a third wave of asbestos-related disease in decades to come.

The move could jeopardise the health and safety of thousands of Illawarra residents living in the "asbestos belt", where suburbs are littered with housing projects built from the so-called wonder material.

But that was not all, according to Mr Jones, who said communities would also carry the burden of cleaning up asbestos-contaminated buildings if the agency is axed.

"There are community organisations right throughout the region, right throughout the country, who are sitting on a time bomb of old asbestos buildings," Mr Jones said.

"There are basketball stadiums, scout halls, that are made out of asbestos and those organisations don't have the resources to safely remove and upgrade those facilities.

"As they get older they start to deteriorate and who's going to pay for it? Who's going to clean up this mess?

"We can't have continual buck-passing, if anything the Commonwealth needs to increase its involvement in this issue, not decrease it."

It is a cause close to Mr Jones, who has spent much of his career fighting for victims of asbestos after losing friends and family members to asbestos-related disease.

Long-time Illawarra co-ordinator of the Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia, Shirley Shead, has been campaigning for asbestos awareness since her husband, Don, who helped build the contaminated Tallawarra Power Station, died of asbestosis in 2000.

Ms Shead said it was alarming to see that after years of campaigning it was still not getting the attention it deserved from government.

"I don't think the government ever do enough, whatever they do. I was often in rallies at Parliament House and sitting in on it but you don't ever get anywhere," the 84-year-old Primbee woman said. "It deserves more attention because it's on our doorstep, everybody would have it somewhere in their homes, it's just sad."

Earlier in May the National Commission of Audit recommended the agency, set up in 2013, to, be abolished as a cost-saving measure.


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