AM WITH SAMANTHA HAWLEY
3 June 2013
COMPERE: The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, will today introduce into Parliament a bill for a new asbestos register and agency for those people concerned they may have been exposed to the deadly material. Mr Shorten met concerned residents on the weekend, and will this afternoon hold a crisis meeting at Parliament House in Canberra. Mr Shorten has told AM the sub-contracted work on twenty Telstra pits in western Sydney is of immediate concern, with three or four sites posing the greatest worry. Bill Shorten spoke to our reporter in Canberra, Samantha Hawley.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, we've got a meeting today of Telstra, of unions, of contractors, victims groups. We believe fundamentally that what we've seen at Penrith in the last number of days could have been done a lot better and a lot differently. We don't know if people have been exposed, but I'm not going to tell the residents that they're making things up or imagining it. Children and adults living in suburban streets in Australia should not be exposed to asbestos.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Do we have any idea, then, of how many people may have been exposed?
BILL SHORTEN: No. There are occupational hygienists swarming all over Penrith now. I flew up on Saturday to meet with families. We don't know who's been exposed or hasn't been exposed, but what this situation requires is a first-class response.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: How are people going to know whether they've been exposed?
BILL SHORTEN: Well, this is the danger, this is the problem. With exposure to asbestos, you mightn't know something has gone wrong until you develop symptoms down the track.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But in Penrith, for instance, you must have sort of an idea of how many people were…
BILL SHORTEN: There's three or four - there's a particular subcontractor who has triggered concerns. There are four or five streets and about twenty pits which seem the immediate cause for concern. There are more facts yet to come to light.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: So we're talking about twenty pits, you say?
BILL SHORTEN: Yes. They're small, but some of them will have contained asbestos. The question is has that asbestos been disrupted, has it got into the environment? There were twenty pits which residents have requested they get information about.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Right.
BILL SHORTEN: I'm not saying that all of them have been disrupted…
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: But you don't seem to have a good idea about how many have been disrupted, how many people have been exposed…
BILL SHORTEN: Well, when you say that, what I'm saying to you is Telstra is in the process of telling us this. Every resident in three or four streets, I understand, has been contacted by Telstra, and there's three or four pits out of the twenty that seem to be causing concern. My concern, though, is we'll get to the bottom of what's happened here and has there been any asbestos in the environment or not?
My concern is that it shouldn't be at this point where you and I have to get answers to questions.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: All right. But you want to set up some sort of register so people…
BILL SHORTEN: So any resident who is worried or thinks that they could have been exposed can record their name so that down the track, there's not an argument about whether or not they were there at the time and could have faced an exposure.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: Right. So there's also reports of mishandling in Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania, so this is pretty widespread, isn't it?
BILL SHORTEN: I and the Government are taking this pretty seriously.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: How would you feel if this happened in your street, outside your house?
BILL SHORTEN: I'd be furious.
SAMANTHA HAWLEY: And the people of Penrith? What have they been saying to you when you've been there on the weekend?
BILL SHORTEN: They're furious.
COMPERE: The Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, speaking to Samantha Hawley.
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