ACT News

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher concedes just one mistake in handling of Mr Fluffy asbestos crisis

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has conceded just one mistake in her handling of the Mr Fluffy issue in recent years, saying in hindsight the government should have written to homeowners in 2010 and put in place a system of letters every five or seven years.

Ms Gallagher strongly defended her government's handling of the crisis, saying she had acted on every piece of advice she had been given and done more than any other government in the country to deal with asbestos.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher faces questions from the media about Mr Fluffy.
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher faces questions from the media about Mr Fluffy. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"Benefit of hindsight, a letter would have gone in 2010 and that's a gap and a criticism that I would accept," she said.

Asked who would take responsibility for the crisis, with people buying homes they didn't know were contaminated, more than 30 forced from their houses and a likely mass demolition, she said, "I can tell you who's taking responsibility, I am.

"That's what I'm doing standing here. That's what I'm doing negotiating with the Commonwealth. That's what I'm doing with the taskforce I established in 2005, the 2010 review and the 2014 taskforce.

"Go and find someone else that's taken more responsibility for asbestos, and go and find anyone who's been interested in it.


"Nobody was interested in anything about it until now. And now everyone's an expert in who should have done what. I know that I did everything that I could with the information that was available to me with that concession that we should have said we will write to homeowners every five years."

Ms Gallagher said the letter was not sent in 2010 because there was ministerial changeover at the time, then the Downer house – which had been missed in the clean-up 20 years ago – came to light and the government decided to wait for the outcome of that demolition and investigation before writing again.

The discoveries in Downer changed everything, prompting the letter of February this year and sparking the crisis.

The Follett government had written to residents in 1993. After that nothing was done until 2005, when she had set up an asbestos taskforce, Ms Gallagher said. She had accepted all its recommendations, including writing to homeowners that year and working to protect tradespeople and in 2010 she had commissioned a review to check the actions taken.

"In terms of looking back at my own role, I actioned every recommendation that came to me, I tabled the reports in the Assembly, I gave ministerial statements on them, I amended the legislation, I ran the community awareness program. So in terms of my role, I feel very comfortable with that," she said.

Asked about the widespread lack of knowledge among many homeowners, who claim not to have had any idea when they bought their homes, Ms Gallagher said one of the changes made after the 2005 taskforce was to make new information on building files available to buyers.

"Most homeowners will say 'yeah, we got the certificate on our building file, it did say Mr Fluffy, we didn't know what that meant'. But the fact is the information was there," Ms Gallagher said.

"There was a certificate saying it had been part of the government's loose-fill asbestos removal program and usually on the bottom of the building file was reference to Mr Fluffy.

"Now there's been criticism since then that it should have been bigger, that there should have been more information around that and we can take all of that on board, but those changes were implemented to increase people's awareness of the product they were buying, of the home they were buying."

She had never had any advice until this year suggesting concerns about people living in the homes, or about the standard of the original clean-up, she said.

Asked about Liberal Leader Jeremy Hanson's call for a board of inquiry, Ms Gallagher said she wanted a way to "go back and wrap up this sorry saga" once the crisis was dealt with. But "whether you need a royal commission, which is essentially what a board of inquiry is, is another question".