Executive Summary

  1.   The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) makes the following submission to the review of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) being conducted by Ms Julia Collins under s 47 of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency Act 2013 (Cth) (Act).
  1.   The ACTU is the peak body representing approximately 1.6 million working Australians.  The ACTU and its affiliated unions have been at the forefront of asbestos reform for decades both domestically and internationally. Along with asbestos diseases support and advocacy groups, we have successfully campaigned for the right of workers to cease work when at risk of exposure, compensation for victims of asbestos-related diseases, and the ban on importation, production and use of asbestos, amongst other things. In 2012, the ACTU, its affiliates and asbestos diseases support and advocacy groups successfully lobbied the then government to establish the Office of Asbestos Safety as a first step to achieve an asbestos-free Australia by 2030.[1] This, in turn, led to the making of the Act, the establishment of the ASEA and the development of the national strategic plan (NSP).
  1.   Australia has one of the highest levels of asbestos-related disease globally, due to our extensive use of asbestos in the 1950s to the 1980s in commercial and residential construction. The incidence of asbestos-related disease continues to rise and to involve broader sections of the Australian population, while awareness of asbestos issues among DIY home renovators remains relatively static.[2] The burden of asbestos-related disease – in direct health costs, costs to the workforce and the broader economy, and the cost of suffering, to individuals, families and communities – makes it a critical issue for the Australian Government.[3]
  1.   The ACTU confirms its long-held position that asbestos in all its forms is a known hazard and persistent environmental carcinogen, that there is no safe level of exposure to asbestos and that to prevent further exposures and asbestos-related diseases, asbestos must be eliminated from the built environment.
  2. In summary, the ACTU recommends that:

       ASEA’s role and functions

(a)    The ASEA should be the central and primary agency responsible for the provision of specialist advice and expertise on asbestos management across all portfolios and jurisdictions;

(b)    The ASEA should be the central and primary agency responsible for the development and implementation of the NSP and asbestos strategy;

(c)    The ASEA should lead on behalf of the Australian Government to develop and promote best practice model asbestos regulation, policy and practice across all portfolios and jurisdictions; and

(d)    The ASEA’s role and functions should expressly include the ASEA undertaking a leadership role in a global campaign aimed at securing a total worldwide ban in the production and trade of   asbestos and asbestos-containing products.

(e)    The constitution of the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council (Council) should be amended as follows:

(i)      The member representing the interests of workers in Australia should be nominated by the ACTU (s 31(d), 32(4) and 32(6)).

(ii)     There should be legislative provision for guaranteed representation of asbestos disease support and advocacy groups on the Council, additional to the two ‘other members’ appointed under s 31(f).

(iii)   Eligibility for appointment as a Council member under s 31(a) or (f) should require knowledge or expertise in at least one of s 32(3)(a) to (d).

(iv)   Support to the Council by input and technical expertise from an appointed advisory committee consisting of appropriate community representatives and professionals should be expressly mandated in the Act. 

Priority areas of the NSP

(a)    Section 5A(c) should be recast as referring to ‘strategic goals’ or ‘objectives’ rather than ‘priority areas’;

(b)    The existing priority areas in s 5A of the Act should be amended as follows:

(i)      Section 5A(1)(c)(i) The systematic identification of material containing asbestos in the built environment and of asbestos dump sites should be in the form of a national audit and should prioritise government buildings and dump sites;

(ii)     Section 5A(1)(c)(ii) The systems, timelines and processes for the prioritised safe removal of material containing asbestos from public and commercial buildings should commence with government buildings. The NSP should address a process whereby removal is only by licensed removalists and address appropriate incentives to property owners to enable and encourage safe asbestos removal and disposal and initiatives to encourage safe storage and disposal at licensed facilities;

(iii)   Section 5A(1)(c)(iii) The measures to assist the residential sector to minimise the risks of asbestos should explicitly include the adoption of an ‘Asbestos Content Certificate’, identifying the location and condition of materials containing asbestos, obtainable by the owner of a private domestic residence at the point of lease, sale or renovation; and  

(v)     Section 5A(1)(c)(iv) The priority area of improving education and information about asbestos should include the development of mandatory asbestos awareness training as a component in all tertiary and other vocational training courses relating to the building and construction industry and allied industries and a compulsory asbestos identification training course for all workers who stand a likelihood of being exposed to asbestos due to the nature of their work, to complete this training prior to engaging in such work.

(c)    The following additional priority areas should be incorporated into s 5A:

(i)      Strategy 6 of the 2014-2018 NSP;

(ii)     The development of nationally consistent asbestos management laws, policies, licensing regimes and procedures; and

(iii)   Remote, rural and regional areas.

(d)    The aim of the NSP should include the elimination of all asbestos-containing materials from the built environment by 2030 (s 5A(1)(b)).

Required changes to the Act

(a)    Such changes to the Act are required as is necessary to achieve the recommendations listed above.

(b)    The title of the ASEA clearly reflects its role and no alternative name should be considered.

  1. The terms of reference for the review and consultation questions are discussed in turn below.


[1] ACTU Media release https://www.actu.org.au/actu-media/archives/2012/new-agency-is-an-important-commitment-to-making-australia-asbestos-free-by-2030   

[2] The 2018 national benchmark survey of awareness and attitudes to asbestos found that 58% of DIY home renovators felt very informed or informed (up from 49% in 2016 but down slightly from 61% in 2014): https://www.asbestossafety.gov.au/research-publications/national-benchmark-survey-awareness-and-attitudes-asbestos-2018

[3] See, eg, The Centre for International Economics, The Economic Burden of Asbestos-Related Disease: Final Report, prepared for Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, 16 May 2018.