Workplace Minister Bill Shorten joined others discuss the immediate and long-term agenda for the taskforce.
Workplace Minister Bill Shorten joined others discuss the immediate and long-term agenda for the taskforce. Rob Williams

Asbestos victims being ignored in political debate: claims

THE victims of potential asbestos contamination have been forgotten in the political debate over the Telstra pits, a leading campaigner for asbestos victims said on Thursday.

President of the Asbestos Disease Foundation of Australia, Barry Robson has been a key advocate for victims of asbestos for more than 10 years.

Mr Robson attended the first meeting of the new national asbestos taskforce in Canberra on Wednesday.

He joined Workplace Minister Bill Shorten, Telstra, ComCare, NBN Co and the Office of Asbestos Safety and Eradication to discuss the immediate and long-term agenda for the taskforce.

The group aim to tackle asbestos across the community, including the more immediate response in dealing with the Telstra issues and NBN worksites.

The meeting came after several incidents of mishandling of asbestos in Telstra pits around the country, including one reported by the Queensland Government in Mackay.

While Worksafety Queensland informed the Federal Government investigations were not required into the Mackay incident, it showed the problems could extend across the nation.

Mr Robson said while the meeting was largely a chance to set out the agenda for the taskforce, it would play a key role in the safe removal of asbestos around the country.

Several recent initiatives, including a national register of potential asbestos victims, were among key issues he had been pursuing for several years.

But he said the political debate over the issue had clouded the achievements and had left victims out of the picture.

"I've been upset with the Coalition since Question Time on Monday - here was an announcement by the government to find a solution to the problems in these pits.

"Then the other great news, all the asbestos groups had been campaigning for a central asbestos registry, was a great initiative.

"All the Coalition had to do was reach across the table and say we're here, that this is a bipartisan issue and we support action on asbestos."

But Mr Robson, a former union official, said instead, the federal Opposition was using the situation as a wedge to score political points.

"I'm trying to get the word out we need to focus on the victims - how do you think that family in Penrith feel, with this hanging over them for 30 or 40 years.

"And then we hear about even more possible problems in other areas, and all we hear is the politics - this should be about those people who may have been exposed."