Australia's asbestos regulatory framework
This chapter provides an overview of Australia's asbestos regulatory
framework. It examines the legislative framework which governs the manufacture,
use, reuse, import, transport, storage or sale of all forms of asbestos and
asbestos-containing materials; before looking at the responsibilities of the
various agencies across a broad range of areas relevant to asbestos control,
including; workplace safety, border protection, environmental protection,
public health and consumer safety. It then goes on to examine areas which were
identified by submitters as having scope for improvement. Finally, noting that
asbestos is not only an issue for Australia, the chapter will examine
Australia's role internationally.
Australia's asbestos ban
Up until the mid-1980s, when bans concerning the use of asbestos started
to be imposed, Australia was one of the highest users of asbestos and asbestos
containing materials (ACMs) in the world. According to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication
Agency (ASEA), Australia has the highest reported incidence per capita of
asbestos-related disease in the world, including the highest incidence of
A total ban on the manufacture, use, reuse, import, transport, storage
or sale of all forms of asbestos and ACMs within Australia came into effect on
31 December 2003 under Commonwealth, state and territory work health and
safety legislation. The ban is complemented by import and export prohibitions
under the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (PI Regulations)
and the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958.
Regulation 4C of the PI Regulations prohibits the importation of
asbestos, or goods containing asbestos, except in very limited circumstances,
such as where the Minister for Employment has provided permission to import
asbestos for the purpose of research, analysis or display.
Types of asbestos
The importation and exportation of fibrous forms of asbestos is
prohibited in Australia. This includes mineral silicate from the:
Serpentine Group—chrysotile asbestos (white asbestos); and
Amphibole Group—actinolite asbestos, amosite asbestos (brown and
grey asbestos), anthophyllite asbestos, crocidolite (blue asbestos), tremolite
Australia considers all fibrous forms of asbestos to be highly toxic and
carcinogenic to humans. Exposure to asbestos can cause cancer of the lung,
larynx and ovary, mesothelioma (a cancer of the pleural and peritoneal linings)
and asbestosis (fibrosis of the lungs).
Importers are responsible for ensuring that materials they import into
Australia do not contain asbestos.
Australian Border Force (ABF) investigates and may prosecute alleged breaches
of the Customs Act 1901 for the prohibited importation, or exportation,
For individuals, an offence of importing asbestos can, upon conviction,
result in a maximum penalty of up to 1,000 penalty units or three times the
value of the goods, whichever is greater. The penalty for a company convicted
of the same offence is up to 5,000 penalty units or 15 times the value of the
goods, whichever is greater. In the case of an infringement notice, the maximum
penalty is 15 penalty units for an individual, or 75 penalty units for a
Currently, the dollar amount of a penalty unit is $210.
Sources of illegally imported asbestos
Australia has a 'zero tolerance' importation prohibition meaning that
all forms of asbestos and goods containing asbestos are prohibited with no
allowance provided for trace levels of asbestos.
Australia's major trading partners, including the United States of America,
India, China, Canada and Indonesia, do not have export bans on all asbestos or
ACMs. Canada recently announced its intention to impose import and export bans
In some countries, including Russia and China, there are bans on the import and
use of certain forms of asbestos, such as amphibole asbestos, however, other
forms of asbestos such as chrysotile remain widely used.
A list of countries with bans on all types of asbestos is available at Appendix
Positive detections of imported items containing asbestos is not limited
to building products, with asbestos being found in a wide range of products
including children's crayons, gaskets, brake pads, prefabricated structural building
materials, component parts of a vessel and protective wrapping of steel
In October 2017 a safety alert was released regarding asbestos found in
imported acetylene cylinders.
See Appendix 4 for a list of goods identified by the Department of Immigration
and Border Protection (DIBP) that might contain asbestos.
Goods containing asbestos have been detected by Australian authorities
in shipments from a range of countries. These include:
United States of America
The DIBP notes that the above list represents the country of shipment,
not necessarily the country of manufacture.
Coordination of agencies with asbestos responsibilities
Asbestos safety is a complex policy and operational area that requires
coordinated efforts to be made by a number of Commonwealth, state and territory
government agencies with responsibilities across a broad range of areas
including; workplace safety, border protection, environmental protection,
public health and consumer safety.
Department of Immigration and
ABF is the operational arm of the DIBP. ABF enforces controls at the
border on behalf of various government agencies through the PI Regulations. The
PI Regulations cover a diverse range of goods including—but not limited
to—drugs, firearms, weapons, objectionable material and industrial chemicals.
ABF enforces Australia's ban on asbestos at the border. Since ABF's establishment
on 1 July 2015, DIBP and ABF have significantly increased the strategic and
operational focus on goods that pose a risk of containing asbestos. Activities
by ABF at the border, and DIBP more broadly include:
undertaking risk assessments on 100 per cent of cargo imported to
commencement of an asbestos sampling programme to refine and
confirm the robustness of alerts and profiles;
enhanced profiling and targeting of high-risk imports that may
contain asbestos, resulting in a significant increase in profile alert matches
to high-risk consignments and the number of tests conducted for asbestos;
an increased assurance approach, including establishment of a
'community protection question' which must be answered by importers, or their
representatives on their import declaration, for imported goods at risk of
requiring the testing of goods that are suspected of containing
the immediate seizure of all goods that test positive to
asbestos, with further investigation potentially resulting in penalties and
increased engagement and awareness raising about Australia's
import prohibition with customs brokers and importers, international
governments, customs agencies and suppliers; and
increased engagement and coordination with Commonwealth, state
and territory government agencies and regulators, including work health and
safety regulators, to improve policy and operational approaches to managing
Australia's asbestos ban.
At a Supplementary Budget Estimates hearing on 23 October 2017, DIBP
advised that over the past 12 months they have continued to increase their operational
focus to deter and detect goods suspected of containing asbestos:
In 2016–17, we targeted more than 8,500 shipments, resulting
in 63 positive detections. That's compared with the 1,100 shipments and 13
positive detections the previous year. Despite intensified and targeted effort,
however, there has not been a proportionate increase in the number of positive
Department of Employment
The Department of Employment has broad responsibilities for developing
policy to protect the safety of Australian workers. Asbestos presents a
significant threat to Australian workers. The department has responsibility for
developing policy in relation to the asbestos import and export bans to the
extent that it supports the domestic workplace ban.
Comcare is the Commonwealth work health and safety (WHS) regulator. It
is responsible for enforcing the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and Work
Health and Safety Regulations 2011 in workplaces covered by those laws
(which include Commonwealth departments and agencies and private sector
licensees). Comcare also has functions and responsibilities for managing asbestos-related
claims under the Safety Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988 and the
Asbestos-related Claims (Commonwealth Liabilities) Act 2005.
Comcare's regulatory duties include responding to incidents where
imported asbestos is discovered in workplaces. For example, Comcare responded
to the discovery of asbestos in recently installed roof panels at the Perth
Children's Hospital, where licensee John Holland Pty Ltd is the lead building
contractor. Comcare engaged closely with Western Australian work health and
safety and building regulators as part of a combined response to this incident.
Safe Work Australia
Safe Work Australia is the independent body that leads the development
of policy to improve WHS and workers' compensation arrangements across Australia.
In addition to the development of model WHS laws relating to workplace
asbestos, Safe Work Australia contracts a consortium led by the Cancer
Institute NSW to manage the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR). The AMR
collects and reports data on new cases of mesothelioma diagnosis based on
notifications from jurisdictional cancer registries, as well as information on
asbestos exposure experiences through surveys and interviews of mesothelioma
Safe Work Australia is not a work health and safety regulator and does
not have any role in relation to the laws that prohibit the importation of ACMs
Australian Competition and Consumer
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is the
Commonwealth statutory authority responsible for enforcing laws that promote
competition, consumer protection and fair trading in Australia.
One of the key aspects of the ACCC's role is to protect consumers by
managing the consumer product safety provisions of consumer protection laws
that focus on consumer goods. Another part of the ACCC's role is to enforce
provisions that prevent false and misleading representations about goods.
Asbestos Safety and Eradication
The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) was established on
1 July 2013. ASEA replaced the Office of Asbestos Safety, which was
established in September 2012 following the recommendation of the Asbestos
Management Review Report to establish an independent national agency to
guide the implementation of the national strategic plan to improve asbestos
management in Australia.
ASEA is responsible for liaising with Commonwealth, state and territory
governments to encourage, coordinate, monitor and report on the implementation
of the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness. To
facilitate this function, ASEA works with Commonwealth, state and territory
governments on asbestos safety, and commissions, monitors and promotes research
about asbestos safety. The National Strategic Plan, launched in August 2015,
represents an agreed national approach to tackling the threat of asbestos.
ASEA assists Commonwealth, state and territory regulators to respond to
imported asbestos incidents through its participation in the Heads of Workplace
Safety Authorities Imported Materials with Asbestos Working Group (HWSA Working
Heads of Workplace Safety
Authorities Imported Materials with Asbestos Working Group
The HWSA Working Group was established in 2013 following the discovery
that motor vehicles with gaskets containing asbestos were being imported into
Australia. The HWSA Working Group includes representatives from:
Commonwealth, state and territory WHS regulators;
Safe Work Australia; and
WorkSafe New Zealand; and
the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment.
The HWSA Working Group's remit is to respond to incidents where imported
goods that may contain asbestos have been identified in workplaces or in the
community; and to share information with the DIBP and ABF to help them prevent
further import incidents.
Rapid response protocol
The HWSA Working Group developed a rapid response protocol for
responding to incidents which came into effect in 2014.
The protocol ensures that relevant information is shared by all government
agencies and enables a nationally uniform enforcement approach to be undertaken
in response to incidents. The protocol is designed to allow for quick
communication to the community about the safe handling and disposal of goods
that contain asbestos. 
Imported asbestos incidents where the HWSA Working Group has enacted the
rapid response protocol have included incidents when asbestos was detected in
crayons and in cement fibre boards that were imported for use within Australian
The Department of Employment and the DIBP co-chair an Interdepartmental Committee (IDC) to improve the coordination
of asbestos policy and regulatory issues across the Commonwealth.
The IDC consists of a number of Commonwealth policy departments and
agencies, reflecting the wide reach of asbestos issues across portfolio lines
and the need for a coordinated approach to holistically address asbestos
issues. The IDC includes:
Department of Employment;
Department of Immigration and Border Protection;
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade;
Department of Industry, Innovation and Science;
Department of the Environment and Energy;
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development;
Department of Health.
Relevant Commonwealth agencies such as ASEA and Safe Work Australia will
actively participate in the IDC. The IDC will also engage with relevant state
and territory government agencies with responsibilities for asbestos issues,
such as WHS, building and environmental regulators, and stakeholders with an
interest in asbestos issues. The IDC first met in September 2016 and is
scheduled to run for 12 months, meeting every 1–2 months.
The IDC aims to:
enhance consultation and coordination of Commonwealth agencies'
efforts in addressing policy and regulatory issues on asbestos;
clarify agencies' roles and responsibilities in managing asbestos
policy and regulatory issues across the supply chain, and
identify risks and gaps in asbestos management across the supply
chain and coordinate proposals to resolve these risks and gaps.
Work Health and Safety laws and
Model WHS laws and regulations were developed from 2008 to establish
nationally harmonised laws that continued the existing domestic ban on asbestos
and ACMs, but also harmonised requirements for identifying, managing and
removing asbestos and ACMs from workplaces, including nationally consistent
training and licensing for asbestos removalists.
The model WHS Act and Regulations have been adopted in all jurisdictions
except Victoria and Western Australia, and commenced in most jurisdictions from
1 January 2012. Victoria and Western Australia have similar laws on the
management of asbestos and ACMs in workplaces as the model laws.
In addition to these general duties under the model WHS Act, the model
WHS Regulations specify additional requirements applying to asbestos. The model
WHS laws are also supported by model codes of practice, guidance material and
information sheets that deal specifically with asbestos.
Whole of government approach
As noted above, asbestos safety is a complex policy and operational area
that requires coordinated efforts on a national scale. As such, a number of
Commonwealth, state and territory government agencies have responsibilities for
monitoring asbestos across a range of areas including; workplace safety, border
protection, environmental protection, public health and consumer safety.
Mr Michael Borowick, of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) submitted
that as responsibilities for various policy areas are so spread across a range
of portfolios, there is a silo effect in which departments and agencies appear
to be acting in isolation. Mr Borowick stated:
A whole-of-government approach would be some mechanism by
which all the agencies and all the departments would be talking amongst
themselves, and it wouldn't be just an interdepartmental committee, an IDC, because
they typically don't involve senior bureaucrats. We'd be looking at something
higher. I know you can't put everything in Prime Minister and Cabinet, but it
needs some central thread. It needs some thread there and, at the moment, it's
siloed. They're all doing their own thing. They've all got their own
legislation. They're all answering to a different minister.
Ms Carolyn Davis, Director of Work Health and Safety and Workers
Compensation Policy at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and its
representative on Safe Work Australia and the Asbestos Safety and Eradication
Council, expressed concern that the considerable overlap between the various
Commonwealth, state and territory authorities operating in this area has led to
inefficiencies and confusion. She stated:
Even the available information published by relevant
Government agencies can be contradictory so an interdepartmental committee that
links these agencies is important; a single national document and website is
Similarly, the Master Builders' Association explained that there is a
lack of clarity and information for building industry participants surrounding
how the system is administered and the roles of the various regulators. It
noted for example:
there is no obligation on any one central or distinct agency to
ensure that imported building products meet Australian requirements; and
industry participants are frequently unsure as to who and/or how
to report a problem with non-conforming products.
As such, the Master Builders' Association argued that 'the Commonwealth
should take a lead role in driving greater collaboration between the regulators
of building, consumer and customs law of all jurisdictions'.
The ACTU also supported a greater role for the Commonwealth arguing
...the Australian Government engage with the states and
territories through the Council of Australian Governments, Safe Work Australia,
and the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council about strengthening the
legislative and other duties of persons that import, supply, sell, demolish and
dispose of asbestos and asbestos-containing products, materials and structures.
The Australian Workers' Union (AWU) also supported a whole of
government, harmonised approach be adopted to address the risk of illegal
importation of ACMs. In its view, consideration should be given to developing
an inter-governmental agreement to ensure 'responses are consistent, well
resourced, timely and ultimately, effective'. The AWU suggested ASEA as the
appropriate authority to develop a whole of government approach as it has the
necessary expertise for this task.
At a Supplementary Budget Estimates hearing in October 2017, Mr Peter
Tighe, Chief Executive Officer of ASEA raised concerns about current funding
arrangements and the ability to deliver on future strategic plans:
It's quite clear, though,
when looking at our operational budget, including a financial report that was
done in relation to the agency some 18 months ago, that the costing for
operation is probably double what is in appropriation. I don't think that even
touches on the work that will need to be done in relation to establishing the
next phase of plans. Whilst my appointment expires in August, I'm more
concerned about whether the agency would be in a position to deliver the policy
position that government wants to take forward. Unless we get some
appropriation that exceeds what's currently earmarked, there will be some
problems. I've taken a new policy proposal to the minister. I've laid that out.
It's a pretty comprehensive submission. The department has that. We've been
working with the department to date. It's in the hands of the
minister—probably, ultimately, the Minister for Finance—as to what might be
done in this area. We'd be happy to go through any scrutiny in relation to what
the agency has delivered and what are projected to be the costs into the
The difficulty is the work
that has to be done in relation to the development of the next national
strategic plan, providing the evidence to the jurisdictions to support that
plan and the work that is required by the group that I have in my office—we
wouldn't be able to fulfil that. It would, basically, neutralise the agency,
where we would have to reduce the staff dramatically to, probably, an executive
officer and a chair. We still are required under our legislation to deliver
certain things. I don't think we'd be able to meet the objects of our act if
that money's not provided.
The committee agrees with submitters that the considerable overlap
between the various Commonwealth, state and territory authorities operating in
this area has led to inefficiencies and confusion. While the committee is
cognisant that asbestos safety is a complex issue, it is concerned by reports
that there is a lack of clarity and information for building industry
participants surrounding how the system works.
The committee is focussed on ensuring Australia takes all steps
necessary to reduce the risk of illegal importation of asbestos; and believes
that greater collaboration and harmonisation between the regulators of
building, consumer and customs law across all jurisdictions is critical to
achieving this goal. The committee is of the view that in order to avoid
confusion and to create a more efficient system, Australia needs to adopt a
whole of government approach to address the risk of illegal importation of
asbestos. The committee believes that the Commonwealth government is best
placed to take the lead role in coordinating a consistent approach across all
jurisdictions to address the illegal importation of asbestos and to ensure
departments and agencies do not act in isolation.
The committee is also concerned about the ability of the ASEA to deliver
the next National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness given its
current level of funding. The committee believes that the work of the ASEA is
well regarded by all stakeholders and on that basis, should remain a separate
agency with adequate funding to carry out its work.
The committee recommends that through the Council of Australian
Governments, the Australian Government pursue a coordinated and consistent whole
of government approach to strengthen federal and state legislation and
regulations to address the illegal importation of asbestos.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government adequately fund
the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency so it is able to deliver the next National
Strategic Plan for Asbestos Management and Awareness and to carry out its other
functions, both current functions and new functions set out in recommendations
in this report.
Consultation with stakeholders
Evidence to the committee highlighted the importance of stakeholder
engagement and consultation to effectively strengthen the federal and state
legislation and regulations regarding asbestos to prevent further incidents of
illegal importation of asbestos.
Ai Group held the view that more effort is necessary to enable
organisations that make sourcing decisions to import products that have a
higher risk of containing asbestos to work cooperatively with regulators and
relevant stakeholders to identify:
how others have dealt with these issues;
the difficulties encountered in establishing that a product is
definitely asbestos free; and
what processes can assist organisations to manage the entire
supply chain to minimise the risk that asbestos containing products will enter
Ai Group suggested one option would be to increase the membership of the
Trade and Goods Compliance Advisory Group (CAG), or some other mechanism. The
CAG first met on 10 March 2016 and was developed 'as a collaborative forum with
industry to co-design solutions for trade and goods compliance issues'. The CAG
membership is comprised of representatives from the DIPB and ABF as well as
industry members including representatives from the Customs Brokers and
Forwarders Council of Australia, the Freight and Trade Alliance, the Australian
Federation of International Forwarders and the Council of Asia Pacific Express
Carriers, as well as ten non-industry association members.
Whichever mechanism for greater consultation and industry involvement is
implemented, Ai Group considered National Association of Testing
Authorities, Australia (NATA) should be involved to provide important
information on the adequacy of testing and where appropriate 'ACTU would be
relevant to help inform the union movement about the difficulties organisations
are facing in meeting their legislative obligations in this complex area of
trade'. Ai Group indicated that it was in discussion with the Australian
Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the ACTU to identify
how they can collectively contribute to improvements in this important area.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) put forward
that the appropriate governance and regulatory mechanisms should be developed
to address the illegal importation of asbestos, and non-conforming building
products more broadly, through consultation with governments, unions, industry
and stakeholders. As such, the CFMEU supported the establishment of formal
consultative mechanisms to enable the Australian Government to consult with key
stakeholders about issues relating to the importation of asbestos.
Similarly, the ACTU contended 'that compliance with Australia's customs
laws could be enhanced if both the DIBP and ABF were to regularly and
systematically consult with a range of stakeholders rather than with just the
customs agents and their representatives'. In particular, the ACTU argued that
there is a lack of transparency surrounding the priorities and activities of
both the DIBP and ABF. 
The DIBP informed the committee that it 'welcomes engagement with
industry, government and other interested parties on the management and
enforcement of Australia’s asbestos import prohibition at the border'.
However, the ACTU did not feel that this was necessarily the reality,
informing the committee that it was denied the opportunity to contribute to the
Asbestos Importation Review and that the Minister would not facilitate their
Mr Borowick noted that the unions were invited to be observers and make
presentations at the IDC, in the year since the IDC was established, and only
one union had attended a meeting and presented.
In addition, Mr Borowick made clear that the ACTU does not want an ad
hoc arrangement; it wants a formal consultation mechanism to be established. He
We want measures that force Border Force and the ACCC to
provide written reasons, published on their website, as to why they haven't
recalled particular products. There's no accountability. There's no
answerability. The way they work is a mystery. They're happy to sit back and
say, 'Tell us what's on your mind now,' but they don't engage with us on the
important issues, and that's because it's all ad hoc. If the committee could
recommend structures that will endure and have real meaning, they're the best
things that work.
The majority of evidence to the committee highlighted the importance of
stakeholder engagement and consultation to effectively strengthen the federal
and state legislation and regulations regarding asbestos to prevent further
incidents of illegal importation of asbestos. The committee notes that the
current ad hoc arrangements for stakeholder consultation are insufficient to
properly address this issue.
In order to effectively address the issue of illegally imported
asbestos, the committee believes regulators need to work cooperatively with all
relevant stakeholders. Indeed, the committee is of the view that the Australian
Government should establish formal consultative mechanisms to enable input from
key stakeholders about issues relating to the illegal importation of asbestos.
Specifically, the committee believes that compliance with Australia's customs
laws would be enhanced if the DIBP and ABF regularly and systematically
consulted with a broad range of stakeholders, rather than with just the customs
agents and their representatives.
The committee recommends that the Department of Immigration and Border
Protection and Australian Border Force undertake an external review of their
industry consultation arrangements with a view to strengthen and formalise the
contribution from stakeholders. Ideally, these should be through formal
meetings on a regular basis with those who are on the front line who are
adversely impacted by illegal asbestos importation.
The World Health Organization and the International Labour Organisation
both recognise that the most efficient way to eliminate asbestos-related
disease is to stop the use of all types of asbestos.
Despite the evidence on the serious health risks related to asbestos,
manufacture of asbestos-containing products continues. Maurice Blackburn
Lawyers noted that in 2013, almost a million metric tons of asbestos was
exported from Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Brazil and India.
The Rotterdam Convention is a multilateral environmental agreement on
the import and export of certain hazardous chemicals. The Department of the
Environment and Energy is the responsible agency administering the Rotterdam
Convention. At present, while all the other main forms of asbestos are listed
in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention, chrysotile asbestos is not.
Annex III 'advice and consent' provision; meaning any country wishing to export
any product containing a substance listed in Annex III must advise that it
contains the substance, and the receiving country must consent to the
Mr Steven Diston, from Electrical Trades Union of Australia (ETU) observed
that asbestos is:
...not just an Australian issue. We cannot just roll out
'fortress Australia' and expect that the rest of the world can continue to deal
with this. It is a worldwide issue. As long as this material is in supply
chains around the world, it is going to keep coming back to haunt us. We are
only going to have to deal with it more and more. Of all of the things that we
can do on the world stage...we can have an international push to try and ban this
product. Ultimately, it is money and vested interests that keep this product
being used. It is the only reason. There are alternative products. You can see
that, because we supposedly banned this product in Australia nearly two decades
The Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU) argued that an
essential first step towards the implementation of a global ban on the trade of
asbestos would be the inclusion of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the
The AMWU argues that listing chrysotile asbestos in Annex III would
facilitate the implantation of Australia's asbestos ban as the Australian
government would need to be notified that products contained chrysotile
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA, the Australian union movement's global justice
organisation, also supported the continued strong advocacy, especially to Asian
countries, to support the listing of chrysotile.
Mr David Clement from Asbestowise, a community-based organisation
providing information, education, advocacy, awareness and support to those in
contact with asbestos and support to those suffering from an asbestos-related
disease, noted the 'failure to list chrysotile as a dangerous substance under
the Rotterdam convention, despite a concerted campaign by unions and civil
Dr Kevin Purse from the Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia pointed
out that this is because the voting procedures are based on unanimity, which
makes it possible for big asbestos producing countries to prevent chrysotile
asbestos from being listed in Annex III.
The voting procedures for the Rotterdam Convention have acted as a
considerable barrier to listing chrysotile asbestos in Annex III. The AMWU
considered that the next step for the Australian government is to actively
advocate for reforms to the voting procedures by:
Working with the process at the Rotterdam Convention
Conference of the Parties to change the voting conventions to remove the
requirement for a consensus and institute a seventy five percent majority
ASEA will work with the Department of the Environment and Energy on
preparations for the 2019 Rotterdam Convention consideration of listing
chrysotile asbestos in Annex III to the Convention.
International trade agreements
The use of asbestos is legal in all countries in the Asia-Pacific region
with the exception of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Korea, Brunei, Singapore,
Hong Kong and Nepal.
As asbestos has been increasingly banned in countries around the world,
asbestos products have been aggressively marketed throughout Asia. China and
India are among the five countries with the highest consumption of asbestos.
Mr Clement from Asbestoswise warned that the likelihood of asbestos
being illegally imported to Australia will increase in line with increasing
trade with China and other Asian countries where asbestos has not been banned.
He observed that further trade will be encouraged through the China free trade
agreement and other agreements between Australia and Asian countries.
Building and Wood Workers' International also expressed concerns that
trade agreements may increase the risk of asbestos importation, stating:
The implementation of the China-Australia Free Trade
Agreement (ChAFTA) has magnified the risk of imported construction materials
containing asbestos. On top of this, the current negotiation of the Regional
Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, an agreement that involves
Australia and 15 other Asia-Pacific nations, the majority of which have not
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers urged caution when agreeing to future
trade agreements with countries that do not have comprehensive asbestos bans.
It argued that the Australian Government should 'commit to ensuring that any
future free trade agreements allow Australia sufficient discretion to regulate
the importation of building products where they may pose a public health risk'.
With regards to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP),
Building and Wood Workers' International maintained that the Australian
Government should demand specific provisions to protect the rights of
governments to regulate the use and importation of asbestos. It stated:
This should include an exemption of asbestos from the
applicability of ISDS [Investor-State Dispute Settlement] provisions (as the TPP
[Trans-Pacific Partnership] did for tobacco), as well as an explicit statement
qualifying asbestos as a carcinogen, and language protecting countries that
implement a ban from other potential challenges.
In light of the vast bulk of illegally imported asbestos coming to
Australia having origins in China, the ACTU proposed that China-Australia Free
Trade Agreement (ChAFTA), which came into force on 20 December 2016, be
reviewed 'with the object of strengthening its provisions so as to prevent the
importation into Australia of asbestos from China'.
Asbestos bans in the Asia-Pacific
Dr Kevin Purse, Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia, noted that
while in some countries asbestos consumption has been decreasing, in other
countries such as China, Indonesia and Vietnam it has been growing very
substantially. He observed:
It is sort of like an action replay of what we had in the
fifties and the sixties...Medical evidence quite often tends to get trumped by
commercial interests. If you go to places like Russia and China, they will tell
you that chrysotile asbestos, white asbestos, can be used safely. That was the
same sort of approach which we had in our country back in the seventies. We
were told that crocidolite, blue asbestos, and grey asbestos, amosite, were
dangerous, but we could use chrysotile safely. So, like I say, it is very much
an action replay. It is tragic because we are going to have so many more deaths
in Asia and in other parts of the world.
Building and Wood Workers' International noted the need for better
regional cooperation between Australia and the Asia-Pacific region to support
the implementation of asbestos bans in other countries with less developed
health and safety regulations. It considered that the continued use of asbestos
in the region 'both in local construction projects and in the manufacturing of
building materials that are exported around the region (including to Australia)
is a significant concern for worker and public health'.
Mr John Mitchell from NATA noted:
I guess in an idealised world we'd have a greater uptake of
Australia's position on asbestos. Basically, the more economies that adopt a
nil tolerance of the stuff, the more, if you like, normalised asbestos-free
manufacture would become. In the interim, we've just got to try very hard,
through as many channels as possible, to get the message out that Australia's
requirements are probably as good as any in the world in terms of protection
and that we are serious about it. 
The Asbestos Disease Support Society took the view that 'Australia needs
to work with our near neighbours to assist knowledge of alternative safer
products...It is our belief that this will decrease the products being made and
therefore decrease the risk of asbestos imports into Australia.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA considered that 'as long as asbestos is being used
anywhere, it remains a risk everywhere'.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA noted that the prolonged latency period of
around 25 years for asbestos-related disease means that impact of the increased
asbestos consumption in the Asia-Pacific region is yet to be felt. It noted
that without asbestos bans, countries in the region will soon find 'any
economic development gains from the production of asbestos-related
manufacturing and use will be overwhelmingly offset by the rising health costs
of treatment and the burden of compensation to victims and families'.
Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA advocated for:
Bilateral and regional advocacy, including at the Asia-Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
(ASEAN) Forums and other relevant inter-governmental meetings.
Strong support for Australian Embassies worldwide to play a role
at the country level, including preventing the use of ACMs in infrastructure
and construction projects funded by the Australian aid program, following the
lead of the Laos Australian Embassy which has banned the use of ACMs in
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supported infrastructure projects in
Continued support for the ASEA to fulfil its stated strategic
goal of Australia playing a leadership role in a global campaign aimed at
securing a total worldwide ban in the production and trade of asbestos and ACMs.
Managing the risks associated with asbestos is not just an Australian
issue, but an international issue. The committee is concerned and frustrated
that despite evidence of the serious health risks related to asbestos,
asbestos-containing products continues, as does their importation to and use in
While noting the complexities of the relevant voting procedures, the
committee considers that an essential first step to the implementation of a
global ban on the trade of asbestos would be the inclusion of chrysotile
asbestos in Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The committee considers that
there is an urgent need to ban chrysotile asbestos, and is of the view that if
the Australian Government is unsuccessful in having chrysotile asbestos listed
in Annex III, it should consider pursuing bilateral or multilateral asbestos
treaties with importation disclosure requirements equivalent to an Annex III
The committee is concerned that as asbestos has been increasingly banned
in countries around the world, asbestos products have been aggressively
marketed throughout Asia, increasing the likelihood of asbestos being illegally
imported to Australia. The committee acknowledges concerns that the terms of
trade agreements may increase the risk of illegal importation of asbestos and
agrees with submitters that the Australian Government should demand specific
provisions in trade agreements to protect the rights of governments to regulate
the use and importation of asbestos. In this context, the committee considers
that the Australian Government's regular review of free trade agreements with
other countries presents a good opportunity for review of provisions regarding
asbestos containing materials.
The committee is particularly concerned that in countries such as China,
Indonesia and Vietnam asbestos consumption has been increasing, and believes it
is imperative that Australia continues to work with our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific
region to raise awareness of the risks of asbestos, and to support the
implementation of asbestos bans in those countries with less developed health
and safety regulations.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue to
strongly advocate for the listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III of the
Rotterdam Convention and support a change in the voting rules if required for
this to be achieved.
The committee recommends that in the event that the Australian
Government is unsuccessful in listing of chrysotile asbestos in Annex III at
the 2019 Rotterdam Convention, the Australian Government should consider
pursuing bilateral or multilateral asbestos treaties with importation
disclosure requirements equivalent to an Annex III listing.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government in its course of
the regular review of free trade agreements with other countries, include in
the review provisions regarding asbestos containing materials.
The committee recommends that the Australian Government continue its
support for asbestos bans internationally and promotes awareness of the risks
of asbestos in the Asia-Pacific region.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page