Sunday, March 16, 2008


Stop using asbestos: minister

Jason Koutsoukis, Sun Herald

March 16, 2008

DEFENCE Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ordered his department's top brass to stop using deadly asbestos parts and equipment.

A furious Mr Fitzgibbon blasted officials over their application for another three-year exemption from laws banning the use of products containing asbestos.

In 2004, the Defence Department was granted a one-off three-year extension to keep using asbestos components in brake pads, gaskets, seals, fire barriers, insulation and packaging.

Another exemption was sought last year.

Mr Fitzgibbon dressed down the services chiefs and told them to stop using the deadly products.

A senior Defence source said it was "understood that the Minister for Defence is very disappointed that Defence continues to seek exemptions to the use of asbestos parts".

"The Minister believes that Defence should be held to the same high standards as the private sector when it comes to asbestos, while obliviously ensuring that national security is not compromised," the source said.

It was understood the department would "look at all possibilities and alternatives to this matter".

Exposure to asbestos has over the past 80 years resulted in thousands of cases of asbestos-related disease among Defence staff, some fatal.

The executive director of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria, Leigh Hubbard, said he was delighted that Mr Fitzgibbon was taking a tougher stand with Defence.

"While it is too late for the hundreds of victims of asbestos disease in Defence over the last 60 years, it should be happy news for current personnel and contractors," Mr Hubbard said.

"Until late last year, when unions and asbestos groups demanded some accountability, the exemption was a fait accompli with the Australian Safety and Compensation Council; the Government authority [was] about to give a blanket exemption.

"We wait with interest to see the results of the minister's pressure."

In 2001, the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission declared a prohibition on the workplace use of asbestos products. It came into effect in January 2004