Parliamentary inquiry recommends asbestos buy-back scheme

Date: Dec 18, 2014

The state government should buy back homes fitted with asbestos in NSW and demolish them, according to a new parliamentary inquiry.

A number of properties across both NSW and the ACT contain potentially lethal loose-fill asbestos insulation fitted by operator Mr Fluffy in the 1960s and 1970s.

However, while the Commonwealth offered the ACT government a $1 billion loan to perform a clean-up operation in the territory, similar support has not been provided for NSW homes.

The deadly nature of asbestos has led to a significant rise in compensation claims for illnesses such as silicosis and mesothelioma. These lung diseases have a low survival rate and can often lay dormant in the body for many years after the initial exposure to asbestos.

As such, the parliamentary inquiry report recommended that the NSW government should embark on a similar buy-back scheme to the one currently being implemented in the ACT.

The report said 59 houses in NSW are contaminated with loose-fill asbestos, but it is believed the real figure is much higher. In fact, worst-case scenario models suggest there could be as many as 5,376 affected properties.

Dwellings constructed before 1980 are most at risk, with the inquiry report suggesting the implementation of mandatory testing for these homes.

Parliamentary recommendations

Aside from a buy-back and demolition approach, several other recommendations were outlined in the interim report.

This included the immediate provision of financial support to property owners and households affected by loose-fill asbestos. The money would be used to cover alternative emergency accommodation, maintenance work and replacement of personal goods.

The inquiry also urged the state government to provide free counselling and mental health services to asbestos victims and their families.

Examining the current cost of the removal and disposal of asbestos waste is also key, the report claimed. Cheaper levies are likely to encourage more people to safely dispose of the material.

A range of measures was also suggested in an effort to minimise the risk of asbestos exposure to tradespeople and emergency services staff.

For example, all known asbestos-affected homes should be clearly tagged and identified. The report also advised the introduction of mandatory awareness training for certain industries.

Fred Nile, committee chairman for the parliamentary inquiry, said the ACT has made proactive efforts to deal with loose-fill asbestos in the territory, but the same could not be said for NSW.

“The evidence received by this inquiry made it clear that if loose-fill asbestos fibres are present in a home then it is ultimately uninhabitable, posing continuing risks not only to residents and visitors but also to the general public.”

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