Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No answers one week from asbestos demo

The Office of Housing has finally published the demolition schedule for its asbestos-contaminated Roberts Street Northcote public housing estate. Unfortunately, the schedule gives the community little more than a week's notice before the works begin without key questions having been answered about the safe management of asbestos on the site.

'Site establishment' was to begin yesterday, with removal of asbestos set to start on Tuesday 11 March. The demolition works are then slated for completion by Monday 24 April.

Recent communications from the Office of Housing – a letter and 20 February flyer that appear to be their final word – have failed to answer critical questions about further testing recommended by their own audit, the demolition contractor's asbestos control plan, and the incomplete removal of asbestos before the buildings are knocked down. These questions were the most important of ten key questions sent to Northcote MP Fiona Richardson and housing minister Richard Wynne on 18 January.

At this late hour, even if this information were to be released, the timeframe would not allow sufficient public scrutiny to occur before the works begin. It therefore appears to be the strategy of the State government to provide only a minimum of information at the latest possible moment to limit the opportunity for public action.

With the release of the schedule late on Friday 29 February, a number of pages on the redevelopment website were taken down. These related to the consultation process, the community advisory committee chaired by Northcote MP Fiona Richardson and the newsletter page. No doubt they were an embarrassment to the government, having been last updated in September last year.

Stay tuned for further news, as the community is not going to take this lying down. In the meantime, why not ring Richardson on 9481 5777 or email fiona.richardson@parliament.vic.gov.au. You could also ring housing minister Richard Wynne on 9096 7722 or email him at richard.wynne@parliament.vic.gov.au.

It's important to demand that demolition works, including asbestos removal, be postponed until the ten key questions have been properly answered and sufficient time has been allowed to scrutinise the responses, together with the contractor's asbestos control plan and the results of any further testing that may have been undertaken. In the absence of transparency, the community is justified in questioning the government's bland and vague assurances that so-called best practice will be followed. Don't let them get away with it.

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