ACT News

International conference says NSW must follow ACT Government's Mr Fluffy asbestos demolition

The first International Conference on Asbestos Awareness and Management has recognised the ACT government's decision to demolish all Mr Fluffy homes as the only viable option to eradicate the deadly risks posed by loose fill asbestos.

Deal: Employment Minister Eric Abetz and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher agree to a Commonwealth loan of 1 billion for ...
Deal: Employment Minister Eric Abetz and ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher agree to a Commonwealth loan of 1 billion for the demolition of asbestos filled houses in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Meares

The conference issued a strongly-worded communique on Wednesday morning following the two-day Melbourne event, which drew government officials, international and Australian asbestos medical experts, health care professionals, community groups, victim support groups, industry bodies and unions.

The communique stated "it is the consensus of all delegates that all forms of asbestos fibres kill and the only solution is to eliminate the sources. There is no known safe level of exposure to asbestos. This conference finds no scientific evidence to support the concept of controlled use advocated by some in the asbestos producing industry."

Workers demolish a Mr Fluffy home in Farrer.
Workers demolish a Mr Fluffy home in Farrer. Photo: Rohan Thomson

"Controlled use" is a method argued for by international asbestos exporters in Russia, China, Canada and other countries to justify their sale of the deadly carcinogen to developing countries like India.

Having heard evidence from Mr Fluffy homeowners and ACT government representatives on the presence of amosite asbestos insulation in more than 1000 Canberra homes - with between 50 and 60 per cent having fibres detected in living areas - the ACT government was described as a world leader on safe practice for its October 28 decision to spend $1 billion demolishing these homes.


Recognising examples in other countries where government action was forced through litigation on asbestos disease, conference delegates endorsed action by the ACT government to end the risk to the community, potentially heading off years of protracted legal arguments.

Conference delegates also lent support to a uniform national response.

An advertisement by Dirk Jansen, aka Mr Fluffy, placed in The Canberra Times in 1968.
An advertisement by Dirk Jansen, aka Mr Fluffy, placed in The Canberra Times in 1968. Photo: Canberra Times

"The Australian Capital Territory government's response to demolish Mr Fluffy homes is acknowledged as the only enduring solution to the ongoing risk posed by loose fill asbestos insulation and the conference commends this approach to other governments," they said.

Federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency head Peter Tighe said the clear implication was the NSW government needed to identify and demolish an estimated 60 Mr Fluffy homes across the border in NSW.

"I believe they don't have any other option," Mr Tighe said.

He noted the situation in NSW was even more pressing than the ACT, as homes had never been remediated and still contained full quantities of Mr Fluffy amosite.

In 1999, the Commonwealth spent $100 million cleaning the roof cavities of more than 1000 Canberra homes. But in February the ACT government conceded ACT residents still faced the risk of remnant fibres migrating into their living spaces and it wrote to homeowners warning them of this fact.

NSW was not included in the remediation program and the NSW Government called an inquiry in August into Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation, chaired by the Reverend Fred Nile.

The committee conducted a public hearing in Queanbeyan on Monday but is not due to report to government until February.

British asbestos ban campaigner Laurie Kazan-Allen addressed the Melbourne conference on the international dangers of the asbestos industry.

Ms Kazan-Allen said she found the evidence from the ACT on Mr Fluffy both "shocking and mystifying". She said Queanbeyan homeowners needed to be evacuated from contaminated houses as a matter of urgency and the NSW government needed to act immediately on the public health issue.

"The Mr Fluffy issue is unique and horrifying. I cannot get my head around how any government could leave residents living in these homes and clearly the people of NSW need a co-ordinated solution," she said.

Ms Kazan-Allen commended the ACT government for "biting the bullet" and committing such a massive sum of money to deal conclusively with the issue after more than 40 years.

She warned the NSW government could face legal action from residents if it did not move to protect their health.

"The NSW Government knows the risk, and they have done nothing, potentially endangering innocent people. If they do not come to the table urgently and willingly they should be dragged through the courts kicking and screaming," she said.