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The Guardian 28 January, 2009

Call for Defence Department ban
on use of asbestos

The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) has expressed alarm at revelations that the Australian Navy continues to use and store as many as 250,000 parts containing the deadly substance asbestos — five years after it was banned in the rest of the country.

AMWU National Secretary, Dave Oliver, has outlined the union’s position in a letter sent to the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon, and the Acting Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Julius Roe, National President of the AMWU, said it is unacceptable that workers and contractors are still exposed to the deadly fibre, years after a nationwide ban was introduced in Australia.

"The AMWU welcomed the statements of the government in December that there will be no further exemptions on the ban granted to the Defence Department.

"However, given revelations regarding the scale of asbestos parts still in use, the AMWU has called on the government to immediately ensure a complete ban on all asbestos introduced within the Defence Department.

"Five years is long enough for the Defence Department to source alternatives and it is urgent that Defence employees and contractors are no longer exposed," Mr Roe said.

Robyn Fortescue, acting AMWU NSW State Secretary, said "Defence personnel and contractors should not be treated differently to other Australian workers in continuing to be exposed to asbestos during their work.

"With Prime Minister Rudd due to open the Bernie Banton Asbestos Research Institute at Concord Hospital in Sydney later this month, announcing a ban on asbestos within Defence would be a timely way to honour his and the thousands of others that have died due to asbestos in Australia.

"In a related move, the AMWU is also asking the Rudd Labor government to establish a National Enquiry into Asbestos and Asbestos Related Diseases in Australia.

"The AMWU and ACTU have written to the Deputy Prime Minister on this issue and we urge the government to move forward with a broad enquiry at the earliest opportunity," said Ms Fortescue.

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