Page 1006 - Week 04 - Tuesday, 24 March 2015

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December 2014, I will also update members on the recent activity of the task force, including the progress of the buyback program and how home owners are being supported through this process.

I advise the Assembly that future quarterly updates, now that we are moving into another phase of the task force’s work—being the demolition of properties and the resale of cleared blocks—will be provided as a reporting document to be tabled to the Assembly rather than by statement. I will, however, continue to provide ministerial statements as necessary on the work of the task force outside of or to complement these written reports.

It has now been nine months since the task force was established to provide a coordinated approach to the management and response of the Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos that has been impacting on our community. In that time a substantial amount of work has been undertaken. This has included: providing advice to the ACT government on this complex social, health, safety, community and regulatory issue; intensive and direct support to home owners; information to the broader community on this issue; creating linkages with community service providers to provide targeted support for home owners, such as the elderly; working with banks, businesses and utilities providers to support affected home owners; working with commonwealth government agencies and ministers around issues such as taxation and social security payments; developing and implementing guidance to support the buyback program as well as asbestos management in the ACT, such as the enactment of the national model asbestos management laws through the Work Health and Safety Act; and also working closely with New South Wales to support their response to this issue.

The last nine months has been a challenging time for home owners and families in the 1,021 houses affected by this significant issue. I acknowledge this and assure home owners that the government and the task force are doing as much as we can reasonably do to support you. In saying this, I am very aware that the buyback program does not meet all home owner expectations. Some of the expectations we cannot meet are due to health and safety reasons, others because of the cost it would cause our community or the equity issues it would create in a response that needs to support all home owners.

An example of a health and safety tension is around home owners seeking to remain in affected houses in the long term or, indeed, in some cases, indefinitely. Unfortunately this cannot occur. The advice from experts and the task force to the ACT government remains that these houses cannot be saved. The asbestos exposure risks cannot be effectively managed in the long term. Demolition is the only enduring solution to this issue, and it remains the government’s advice that all affected homes should be vacated. This is why we offered to purchase them all at a value ignoring the presence of loose-fill asbestos on 28 October last year.

Let us come back to why this is the case. Six or even three months ago asbestos fibres were being routinely detected in the living areas of affected homes—in children’s bedrooms, in kitchens, in built-in wardrobes, in living rooms. We all know these fibres are not just in the ceiling spaces, walls or subfloors of these houses; they are coming through cracks in cornices, through heating and cooling systems and gaps in wall cavities.

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