Thursday, December 6, 2007

Where's the asbestos audit, Fiona?

In an article in this week's edition of The Melbourne Times, Northcote MP, Fiona Richardson, responds to concerns about asbestos in the soon-to-be demolished Roberts Street flats by saying that an audit of asbestos and removal plans will be made publicly available. The trouble is that, despite the timeline for the project being long known and the demolition being close at hand, there has been almost complete silence on this issue. That's why I raised concerns with TMT, and was unsurprised that those concerns turned out to be shared by former residents.

Yes, there is still one resident who has not been transferred to alternative accommodation, but delaying the commencement of the redevelopment shouldn't mean stalling an asbestos audit and making the results publicly available, or failing to be open and transparent on an issue of public health. I am told, for example, that the issue was raised at the recent community advisory committee meeting (26 November) not by the attending officials, but by a resident.

Given that the committee meetings are understandably held at a time suitable for the residents rather than members of the wider community to attend, that places a special onus on the committee, and on Richardson as its chair, to communicate more effectively via letterboxing and the web. Yet the Office of Housing website appears not to have been updated since September, and contains absolutely no mention of asbestos.

So what should we expect on this issue? I think it's reasonable to have answered the questions I sent to Richardson on 28 November. It's reasonable that as much information be made available as will allow the community to make its own judgment about whether asbestos will be appropriately handled to ensure a safe redevelopment.

As a start, Fiona, when was the audit commissioned and exactly when will it be published and distributed? We might also have the minutes of meetings published on the web as soon as they are completed, so that those who can't attend in normal working hours can read what's going on. It's time to move towards openness and transparency, and away from spin doctors and so-called issues management - which is really more about covering backsides than informing the public of the things they have a right to know.

If you want to prompt Richardson to respond, why not call her electoral office on 9481 5777, or email

You might also consider writing a letter to The Melbourne Times by emailing, or calling them on 9473 4700 to express your concern.

For those of you who are interested, ABC Radio National's Australia Talks did a program on asbestos last night. The Science Show will also shortly broadcast a series on mesothelioma, a deadly disease caused by exposure to the fibre.

While it is important to remember that asbestos can be removed safely to protect human health, not all asbestos exposure occurs in the workplace – there have been numerous examples of dangerous cost-cutting in commercial demolition works. That's why it's important for the government to set the standard with projects such as the Roberts Street redevelopment.

Your comments are most welcome here, or feel free to email me if you prefer to discuss this matter offline.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are most welcome on any of the posts at Northcote Independent. I encourage feedback - positive or negative. Feel free to disagree, but remember that posts are moderated to ensure they are on the topic and in the spirit of open debate, as outlined in my editorial policy.