Page 721 - Week 02 - Thursday, 10 March 2011

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Dangerous Substances Amendment Bill 2010

Debate resumed from 9 December 2010, on motion by Ms Gallagher:

That this bill be agreed to in principle.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (11.27): The Liberal opposition will be supporting this bill, which amends the definition of asbestos for the purposes of the Dangerous Substances Act 2004 and the dangerous substances (general) regulation 2004. The definition seeks to clarify that only mineral forms that contain asbestos should be caught by the legislation. Some minerals may or may not contain asbestos, depending on whether it has fibres or crystals.

The bill also omits the term “asbestos product” as apparently this term is no longer used. Currently the act defines asbestos product as “anything that contains asbestos”. It gives the example of a material formed by mixing asbestos fibres with plaster, cellulose, clay or an adhesive product. Despite this amendment, the regulations will continue to carry reference to and control of “asbestos product”. Thus it will continue to refer to “asbestos product” even though the term is apparently no longer used. I will talk a little more later on about the confusion that this has caused.

The amendment arises as the result of a request in a letter dated 21 June 2010 from the then commonwealth Minister for Industrial Relations. In that letter, the minister asked all jurisdictions to introduce this legislation as a matter of urgency. In developing the suggested approach, the federal government consulted with national bodies. Apparently, more substantive changes were anticipated, but this measure has been seen as an effective interim stopgap. So the definitional issues were identified and formulated in June and only had to be drafted into legislation at the local level.

The ACT did not introduce this bill until 9 December 2010, slightly under six months later. If this is the government’s view of urgent, I would hate to have experience of what the government thinks is unimportant or non-urgent. That said, Mr Speaker, I note that as of the beginning of February this year only South Australia and the Northern Territory had introduced and passed legislation. So although I think that the ACT government has been slow on this, other jurisdictions have been slower. In introducing this simple amendment, this government has managed to create a moderate amount of confusion anyhow.

The bill we are debating today is touted as allowing clarity for industry, particularly those who use minerals that may or may not contain asbestos in a form that poses no health risk. The minister’s introductory speech gives tremolite as an example. It can be in an asbestos form—that is, carrying fibres—or a non-asbestos form—that is, carrying crystals. This mineral in its crystal form is used by jewellers to make jewellery. The amendment would allow them to continue in their trade using the crystal form of the mineral without being in fear of contravening the act or regulations, or any of the importation prohibitions there are on asbestos.

However, as I have already said, the bill also carries some quite confusing terminology. Whereas on the one hand, the bill omits the expression “asbestos product” from the act, the regulation continues to refer to “asbestos product”. Like the

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