Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Safety first on asbestos?

There's no question mark in the same headline in Heather Gallagher's story for the Northcote Leader this morning, but her article at least promotes the public meeting at 6.00pm this Friday 28 March at the Baden Morgan Reserve next to the Roberts Street flats. It also includes my quote about the persistently poor public communication about asbestos safety in this project.

Further, the article appears to confirm that Richardson will attend Friday evening's meeting, offering locals the opportunity to run the gauntlet of bureaucratic stage-management to ask their local MP some tough questions about asbestos safety.

Many of the questions that still need to be answered, despite the so-called FAQs offered by Housing, are set out in my still unanswered letters to Richardson and Wynne of Tuesday 11 March. Of course, another big question is why there will be such a ridiculously short time before the release of any new information, the public meeting, and the revised start of asbestos removal works – which I am led by a senior Housing official to believe will be next Monday 31 March (thanks, Ed).

While the release of any new information this week – the asbestos control plan, the name of the asbestos removal sub-contractor etc. – will indeed be most welcome, the public needs to see just how close to the start of the works this takes place. For this reason, I have taken a snapshot of the Office of Housing redevelopment website as of this morning, so we can see just what is added in the last few days before the meeting and the start of the works. The snapshot shows the site was last updated on Wednesday 19 March, so let's wait and see.

Why are the timeframes for disclosure so important? Well, as I said in the Leader article, the community needs to have the information necessary to judge for itself that public health will be protected. It needs that information in time to challenge the government's actions, not when it is already too late to do so.

In this case, the failure of timely disclosure has been accompanied by government embarrassment in relation to the asbestos audit and the tender documents when information has finally been released or otherwise disclosed.

With the announcement of the demolition contractor, City Circle, in late February, the government is also yet to explain this VCAT case regarding the ten-month suspension of an asbestos removal licence. City Circle will sub-contract out asbestos removal for the Roberts Street project, but its own track record in this area is highly relevant to the project and should have been disclosed in the public interest.

Come to Friday's public meeting and we'll get some of these issues on the table!

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