Bill's Transcripts

936 ABC Hobart

936 ABC Hobart
5 June 2013


LEON COMPTON:    Bill Shorten is the Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Mr Shorten, good morning to you.

BILL SHORTEN:       Good morning.

LEON COMPTON:    Causing needless anxiety are you? well around Australia, around Tasmania particularly as you have been accused?

BILL SHORTEN:       Oh my goodness, the Coalition don't know whether they're Arthur or Martha. At first they're saying that this is all a disaster. Now they're saying we're causing needless anxiety? If the Coalition want to attack the Government they should at least pick one consistent line of attack. What really matters to me, in fact the only thing that matters to me, is not what sort of focus group research the Opposition want to do to attack the Government on NBN because they know people like the NBN.

What matters to me is asbestos and exposure. Asbestos is a deadly disease. The Labor movement aren't proud of that and this Labor Government has done more to tackle asbestos exposure than any of our predecessors. The reason why I think asbestos is such a big issue is because we were amongst the most prolific users of this deadly substance.

What happened is we've seen deaths from the people who mined it and of course even in Northern Tasmania they were mining asbestos. And then what's happened since then is - I mean we've worked out that - and in fact I think a lot of companies knew it was dangerous back then, which is more poor reflection on them. But then you've had people in the manufacturing of it have been exposed and now you've got this third wave of people who are disturbing where existing asbestos is.

It could be in a Telstra pit or it could be in a home renovation. So no, we don't want to needlessly scare anyone. It's the Opposition who says that somehow it's all the fault of the NBN. What is the issue here is when there's asbestos in the environment and when it becomes airborne and exposed to the environment that is a real problem. There's no safe level of exposure.

LEON COMPTON:    Yes and this is the nub of the problem of course, the NBN roll out and can we focus specifically on Tasmania? Hopefully you're aware of the situation in this state. How is this going to affect the NBN roll out here?

BILL SHORTEN:       Well I'm not the Minister for the NBN but the NBN experts tell me that it won't delay the NBN roll out. What it does tell me though is we have to make sure that we have got contractors and sub-contractors, that they're properly trained in asbestos removal. Handling asbestos is not just something which any person in the street can do or should do. So I know that there's going to be, regardless of the NBN roll out, 650 plus fatalities this year due to mesothelioma which is what happens when you contract asbestosis and then the asbestos fibre gets into the lining of your lungs.

We know that there's 30 to 40 000 people who are yet to die from asbestos, asbestos related diseases in Australia. I know that more Australians will die from asbestos related diseases than died in the First World War.

So what we want to make sure is that whenever it is disturbed - and by that, say it's in the cement lining of a pit - that when it is disturbed that it's remediated, taken out properly. That's the issue and this is an issue regardless of NBN.

LEON COMPTON:    Telstra, you've had discussions with Telstra.

BILL SHORTEN:       Yes.

LEON COMPTON:    They are obviously training their staff in asbestos removal, dealing with asbestos lined pits?

BILL SHORTEN:       Yes, they are. They've got good policies on paperwork, in fact just as an ordinary Member of Parliament I wrote to them some time ago and they reassured me that for NBN they were on top of this issue.

Comcare, the regulator's been in contact with Telstra, but then what's happened is that there's been a spate of reports in the last few weeks, number of weeks. People have known that there's asbestos in telecommunication pits. I mean Telstra must know because they're the ones who put them in the pits in the pipes all those years ago.

The Federal Opposition who now is sort of discovering asbestos were actually reported to Parliament back in 2005 that there was asbestos in these pits. Telstra said they've got a policy for handling it. What is clear to me is that in the case of when there are some contractors and sub-contractors handling asbestos related materials, it is clear that the standards haven't been as good as they should have been.

I do not want families exposed to it. Now when you want to tell the truth to people, that is asbestos is deadly, that is we don't want to have exposure, that is that a large Australian company's policies and procedures do not appear to be adhered to on the ground. That is not causing needless anxiety, nor is it ignoring the problem. It's just calling it as it is.

LEON COMPTON:    The state of play at the moment then - and again I understand you're not the Minister for the NBN - but what is happening to the NBN roll out? Is it on a temporary hold?

BILL SHORTEN:       No. I haven't seen the latest this morning. The Union is saying that where work's unsafe it shouldn't be continued. I agree with that, but what I don't know is if all - I don't automatically accept things at face value - Telstra has already suspended remediation of its pits and ducts as the clean-up of affected sites continues.

We've set up an independent taskforce because frankly it's not enough just to say that the company's know what they're doing. Clearly there has been some failures or breaches of the duty of care.

The taskforce is actually meeting today to discuss the best practice for future remediation. Telstra and other contractors acknowledge that they need to have better training, better inspection, better monitoring of what the systems are. There was work on NBN will continue that doesn't involve remediation.

LEON COMPTON:    Alright, so it's a watch this space but there's a meeting today Bill Shorten?

BILL SHORTEN:       There's a meeting today, but it's more than that. I think we should first of all recognise - I get that the Liberal Party don't like the NBN, but we should not confuse that with asbestos exposure issues. No one from the Opposition has ever raised with me asbestos in the Parliament until they saw a chance to bag the NBN.

Now that does not excuse poor asbestos handling procedures but please, let's regard asbestos - it's a bit like cancers generally - as above politics.

I have for 20 years pursued Health and Safety. It is one area and it doesn't matter if your listeners are Liberal or Labor, I think it's fair to say that the Labor side of the thing has generally been pretty consistent about worker and community safety. That's my priority and the NBN issues, well to the extent if there's anything which is unsafe that needs to be rectified. Beyond that it's business as usual for NBN.

Telstra has accepted responsibility which is a leadership thing to do and we will just keep working through.  just want to make sure, because I don't want any parent to have an anxiety that somehow they haven't been a good parent because they're worried their child's been exposed, the people who should handle this material should do it properly, safely. That is what I'm interested in.

LEON COMPTON:    Bill Shorten, thank you very much for your time this morning.

BILL SHORTEN:       Thank you, bye.