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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2347 ..

Griffith Preschool

MR WHITECROSS: Mr Speaker, my question without notice is to Mr Stefaniak in his capacity as Minister for Education and Training. Minister, I refer to your answer yesterday about the removal of the cubbyhouse at the Stokes Street preschool. I would caution you because yesterday you tried to create the impression that it was a storeroom, not a cubbyhouse, and that is not my information; so you need to be careful about misleading the Assembly. Can you advise whether the building contractor involved with the removal of the cubbyhouse had obtained a permit for the removal of asbestos; whether the contractor is licensed as an asbestos remover; and whether this company is one of the five contracted to remove asbestos on behalf of the ACT Government?

MR STEFANIAK: In relation to the last question, I am not sure. I will have to find out whether it is one of the five. In a way, I hope not. In relation to the cubbyhouse bit, I understand it was a cubbyhouse used as a storeroom; but, anyway, it is a building that we know all about. Mr Whitecross, I am advised that the contractor engaged to remove the cubbyhouse structure did not hold formal asbestos removal qualifications.

Mr Connolly: Did not hold qualifications?

MR STEFANIAK: Did not hold formal asbestos removal qualifications. I am also advised that in cases where he has undertaken projects previously involving asbestos removal he has engaged qualified removalists to undertake the work. I understand that the contract price reflected the fact that asbestos could be involved. In the circumstances, the officer concerned had an expectation that the contractor would take all reasonable steps if, in fact, the building contained asbestos. The material removed from the site is being tested at present to ascertain whether, in fact, it does contain asbestos. Results should be available by the end of this week, I am advised.

The contractor has advised the department that he inspected the structure initially and thought material present was AC sheet, which contains asbestos, so he quoted accordingly. Secondly, he says that on a second inspection he revised his opinion and thought it was not AC sheet and proceeded on that basis. I am advised, Mr Whitecross, that the department acted quickly and in accordance with the regulations to ensure that the hazard was removed from the preschool as quickly as possible. I have directed the department to ensure that proper procedures are followed if such a situation arises again, including the need to ensure that people do hold proper certificates.

MR WHITECROSS: I have a supplementary question. I take it from the Minister's answer that no permit was obtained, and that the contractor was not a licensed asbestos remover and was not one of the five companies. Can the Minister advise us of what steps he will be taking to ensure that the occupational health and safety section in his department, who ought to know, are properly informed of legal requirements and health factors involved in the removal of asbestos, so that other children and other staff under the responsibility of the ACT Government are not exposed to unsafe levels of asbestos?

MR STEFANIAK: I think they probably have a fairly good idea, Mr Whitecross, but I will take it on board to remind them of their rights and their responsibilities in relation to that.

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