The Howard Government’s failure to ban the production and importation of asbestos products will be the focus of international attention today when Australia hosts the sixth International Day of Mourning in Melbourne.

The commemoration ceremony for the estimated 1.2 million people who are killed around the world each year because of their work is being hosted by the ACTU at the Victorian State Library.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said that by the year 2020, more than 56,000 Australians are expected to die from asbestos diseases. Australia still imports an estimated 1,500 tonnes of raw (chrysotile) asbestos and some one-million products containing asbestos each year.

“We’re calling on the Federal Government to come on board with all the States and agree to ban asbestos imports and use in Australia as soon as possible,” Mr Combet said.

“The Commonwealth-State Workplace Relations Ministers’ Council meeting next month provides Federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott with a perfect opportunity to adopt the ban by 2003, as already agreed by the States.

“The first official declaration of asbestos as a hazardous material came to Australia from the UK’s Chief Inspector of Factories’ report in 1901,” Mr Combet said. “A century later, more than one Australian per day is dying of work-related mesothelioma, and the death rate can only go up.

“The time to put a stop to this outrage is manifestly overdue. “The only reason industrial asbestos is still used in Australia is because Mr Abbott refuses to stop it. It’s critical that the Federal Government act now to ban all asbestos imports if our community is to become asbestos-free.”

As part of the International Day of Mourning, workers across the country are planning to observe one minute’s silence at 11am today in memory of their deceased colleagues.