The Coalition government has staked a great deal of its reputation on being tough on border protection.
So it was no doubt embarrassing to Border Protection Minister Peter Dutton to have to admit that while hundreds of people who have been granted refugee status continue to be “detained” on Nauru and Manus island, deadly asbestos is entering Australia without too much trouble at all.
On 4 August, Dutton released a report – five months after he received it – that unions say shows the Federal Government is dangerously negligent when it comes to controlling asbestos importation in Australia.
The report from Swedish firm KGH Border Services highlights problems not only with staff resourcing in the Australian Border Force, but a general belief within that organisation that even if they catch importers, they are unlikely to be prosecuted.
Release of the report followed the discovery of asbestos in the Perth Children’s Hospital and in Brisbane’s 1 William St tower in July this year. In both cases the materials containing asbestos came from a Chinese-based supplier.
Importation into Australia of materials containing asbestos has been banned for over a decade. So what is going wrong?
According to Dutton, it’s all the unions’ fault. Unions push up wages and builders compensate by bringing in cheap imports. But this bit of union-bashing doesn’t quite explain why Dutton’s Border Force has been failing to protect Australian workers and other citizens in this crucial area.
Could it be that, unlike refugees, asbestos is just not a political priority for the Turnbull government?
The Queensland government has called on Dutton to increase penalties for those caught importing material containing asbestos.
“Peter Dutton talks tough about people smugglers,” says Queensland Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace. “Now he needs to get tough on importers who bring deadly asbestos containing materials into the country.