Mark Buttigieg – SO52 – Transport Asbestos Register – 27 February 2020 – Opening Speech

Mark Buttigieg – SO52 – Transport Asbestos Register – 27 February 2020 – Opening Speech

February 28, 2020 3 By Kailee Schamberger


For the House’s benefit, this is the second time this order has been put before the House. I understand my colleague the Hon. John Graham has previously had similar Standing
Order 52 applications rejected by the House, so members might wish to consider that context. The reason a previous Standing Order 52 request
was rejected was a technical interpretation of the Act that said the Minister did not
have direct control over the sub-entities from which we were seeking vital information—namely,
asbestos registers and health management records. Workers in the rail sector in particular rely
on that information in order to tell when they are in environments that are not conducive
to their good health. In other words, they are able to say, “The
place is riddled with asbestos. We need to know where the asbestos is and
we need to know what our exposure is and whether or not we are going to be subsequently covered
down the track if anything comes of it.” We have had to rephrase the Standing Order
52 application in order to specify the sub-entities that the Minister apparently does have control
over so that it would be accepted. It is clear under the Act that the Minister
does have direct control, but we are not going to quibble with that. We got advice from the Clerk to say that the
technicality was correct, so we have resubmitted the application. I will give members some background. The unions in this sector, particularly the
Electrical Trades Union but also the Rail, Tram, and Bus Union and others, have been
asking for these things for about two years. All we get from State rail and the sub-entities
associated with the Transport cluster is obfuscation such as, “We haven’t got the register”, or,
“We might have part of it”, or, “It’s going to take 600 hours worth of resources to provide
the registers.” These documents are required by legislation
to be present so that if I turn up to a site I can look at a spreadsheet or a register
and say that this site has got asbestos and we need to do A, B and C to deal with it. For example, we may need to wear protective
equipment, get the asbestos removed, stop work or whatever it may be. However, workers cannot do those basic things. They do not know where the asbestos is because
the employer will not tell them. They are required by law to have the registers. The union has tried to do it through Government
Information (Public Access) Act [GIPAA] requests and through correspondence with RailCorp and
the other entities mentioned in the Standing Order 52 application. During the budget estimates process in August
my colleague the Hon. Peter Primrose asked Howard Collins, the CEO
of RailCorp, if he could provide it. The answer was, “Yes, we will get those to
you forthwith.” There has been no correspondence and no return
other than a couple of scant management plans, which is not what we are after. Workers deserve to have access to the information
so they can make an informed decision about their exposure to a deadly substance. It is basic stuff. We have been through the union corresponding
with the employer, the GIPAA requests, the budget estimates process and now the rejection
of a Standing Order 52 application based on a technicality. I think it is more than reasonable for this
House to pass this motion so that we can get hold of the asbestos registers and give the
employees some comfort by the fact, first, that the registers exist and, secondly, that
they are accurate so that when the employees are at their workplaces they can make informed
decisions about how to deal with a deadly workplace substance. In this day and age, with the resources we
have as a modern society, we should not be putting people in situations where they do
not have access to this information. When it has been asked for through official
channels, we should not have to come to this House on bended knee for a simple production
of the documents that are required by legislation. Let us debate the motion, but I appeal to
the common sense and goodwill of members and ask that they agree with this proposition. We have been through the proper process. We do not want to make unnecessary requests
and drain government resources if we do not have to; however, in this case we have been
forced down that path. To be constantly pushed back by bureaucratic
delay and excuses is not good enough. If we have to use the House to extract the
information for the benefit of people in the workplace, we will. We have done so and will continue to do so. I ask members for their support for this reasonable
request. I commend the motion to the House.