ACT News

Mr Fluffy clean up: federal government announces contribution

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy ...
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy asbestos legacy. Photo: Andrew Meares

So just to wrap up here, in an extraordinary announcement, Employment Minister Eric Abetz has said 1021 houses will be bought and demolished across Canberra with a $1 billion dollar loan to the ACT Government in a press conference today.

  • The $1 billion loan to the ACT for the program to buy-back and demolish the homes will be borrowed at the Commonwealth’s interest rate over 10 years.
  • The ACT will get a 0.6 percentage point discount on the cost of borrowing the funds.
  • 200 homes will be demolished a year for the next five years from January 2015, and soft furnishings in houses will also have to be destroyed.
  • Waste from the clean up will be dumped in West Belconnen tip, which will be expanded.
  • Mr Abetz has ruled the Commonwealth out of providing assistance to affected residents in Queanbeyan.
  • There is to be some flexibility for people who wish to remain in their homes.
  • Demolition of part of the Ainslie shops will not include the IGA.

Thanks for sticking with us, there is more coverage of the announcement from Kirsten Lawson here.

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy ...
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy asbestos legacy. Photo: Andrew Meares
Queanbeyan Mayor, Tim Overall.
Queanbeyan Mayor, Tim Overall. Photo: Katherine Griffiths

Free checks for Queanbeyan residents: local mayor Tim Overall has urged residents in properties built before 1980 to register for a free inspection.

"The current situation in Queanbeyan is we have 12 identified properties affected by Mr Fluffy but sill do not know the total number of houses," he said.

"We are currently encouraging any homeowners in Queanbeyan with houses built before 1980 to register for a free inspection by NSW Workcover."

What's this "saving" Employment Minister Eric Abetz is talking about?

So the Commonwealth is not contributing any money directly, but its loan is expected to save the ACT about $32.2 million.

This is because the territory will get a 0.6 percentage point discount on the cost of borrowing the $1 billion.

But the Commonwealth is seeking indemnity from any further claim.

For those wanting to stay in their houses: The ACT Asbestos Taskforce is preparing to work with homeowners wanting to remain in their houses on necessary medium term hazard reduction and risk management requirements, ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher said today. 

As we heard in the press conference, long term habitation is not considered practicable or safe.

Once houses are demolished and blocks of land remediated, blocks will be made available to be for re-sale, with the original homeowner given the first option to buy back the block for their own occupation.

“We understand that many homeowners have indicated a preference to return to their block in the future. We have worked to balance this desire with mitigating the cost of this program to the rest of the community,” Ms Gallagher said.

The taskforce will arrange a number of community forums and drop-in sessions for residents to ask questions on the technical elements of the clean up.

Details of how the demolition and buyback scheme will work will be released next week with a view to finalising prior to the scheme becoming operational in January next year.

The full taskforce report is available here.

ACT Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has welcomed the deal between the Commonwealth and ACT governments on the Mr Fluffy clean up.

“One thousand plus families have been under stress waiting for progress on this issue and today they’ll be able to see a clearer road ahead," he said.

"The decision by the ACT government to buyback more than one thousand residential properties will certainly provide some comfort for those affected.

“That coupled with the decision of the Commonwealth to provide a $1 billion concessional loan towards the cost of the program means the impact on the ACT Budget is manageable.

“While I accept we did not get all that the ACT requested from the Commonwealth, I’m pleased that the road to a permanent resolution is clearer."

Mr Hanson said he looks forward to the ACT government running an effective clean up program.

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Employment Minister Eric Abetz has announced the ACT Mr Fluffy loan to the Senate.

He says it will "provide certainty" and "assurance" for Mr Fluffy owners and that the ACT Government will be responsible for the administration.

He has been asked by Senator Zed Seselja about the timeline for the buy-back and demolition of home. Abetz responded, saying "as soon as possible".

 

Employment Minister Eric Abetz is up in the Senate taking questions on the Mr Fluffy $1 billion loan.

 

 

Queanbeyan explainer: Canberra Times reporter Emma MacDonald previously reported the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency's concerns for Mr Fluffy homes in Queanbeyan.
Agency head Peter Tighe recommended that the NSW government "immediately" extend financial support to get families out of at least 12 identified Mr Fluffy homes in Queanbeyan and others testing positive across NSW.
"It is like swimming in the ocean with a shark nearby. Do you take the risk or do you ring the shark bells and clear the water?" he said.

The NSW parliament announced last month it would investigate the extent of Mr Fluffy asbestos contamination in NSW homes.

More than 200 NSW residents have requested tests of the loose-fill insulation in their ceilings.

Queanbeyan not surprised after they were left out of the Mr Fluffy $1b loan

Queanbeyan mayor Tim Overall said he wasn't surprised NSW homes were left out of today's announcement but said he would continue to urge the federal and NSW governments for support:

"I certainly welcome the news for ACT residents with homes affected by this Mr Fluffy scurge but it leaves Queanbeyan and other affected NSW residents out on a limb.

"I'll be continuing to to urge the NSW premier and Eric Abetz to ensure Queanbeyan and NSW residents are part of the solution which hasn't happened to date. It is critical a structured remedial program is made available to residents.

"The issue in Queanbeyan is well beyond the capacity of a local council. It requires NSW government intervention, possibly with Commonwealth support. I've made strong representations to the honourable Eric Abetz and also the NSW premier over recent months. 

"I see it as a national health issue."

The report on the Long Term Management of Loose Fill Asbestos Insulation in Canberra Homes is now up on the taskforce website. You can read it here.

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Mr Fluffy demolition to begin in January: ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher says that in addition to all the houses being demolished, everything else will be removed from the block, too, Emma Macdonald reports.

Each block will be scraped, bringing it back to the subsoil.

The program, which is expected to begin in January, will take about five years.

The government plans to demolish an average of four houses a week, or about 200 a year.

 

Update: Bad news for Ainslie residents, the clean up will mean part of the shops will have to go, Emma Macdonald reports:

Mr Fluffy furnishings to be destroyed: While the report is not yet online, Emma Macdonald has a hard copy and is reading through it.

There is a bit more detail about what will happen to the contents of the Mr Fluffy homes. Many families had to leave their homes fully furnishing, and have not been allowed back in.

The report says soft furnishings, toys, linen and clothing cannot be conclusively decontaminated, with the implication that all will have to be destroyed.

Anything that can be cleaned by a licensed removalist, using an approved Hepa vaccum cleaner and wet wiping - that is, items with hard surfaces - can be decontaminated.

The report says that vacuum cleaners, washing machines and driers cannot be remediated.

If fibres are found in an area, then it is reasonable to assume that the furnishings will be affected, it says.

Long-time Mr Fluffy Residents Action Group campaigner Brianna Heseltine has welcomed the announcement in a statement to The Canberra Times.

She said the group will continue to campaign for those affected in Queanbeyan and call on the NSW Premier Mike Baird to intervene:

"ACT owners and residents erupted in shouts and tears of relief over the long awaited announcement," the statement read.

"Our lives have been on hold since February. We had fallen into ever deeper states of anxiety and stress. Finally, we have a date for the commencement of the scheme. There are no words to describe the lifting of this insufferable weight.

"Our eyes are fixed on Queanbeyan. They must receive help from the NSW Government. The Premier should intervene."

 

Spokesperson for the 'Mr Fluffy' owners and residents action group, Brianna Heseltine, with her baby Marcus.
Spokesperson for the 'Mr Fluffy' owners and residents action group, Brianna Heseltine, with her baby Marcus.  Photo: Rohan Thomson

Here is some info from Chief Minister Katy Gallagher's press statement:

The report by the Asbestos Response Taskforce on the long term management of loose fill asbestos insulation in Canberra homes, recommends the demolition of these homes "as the only enduring solution."

“It is a clear recommendation from the asbestos taskforce report that the only way to solve the Mr Fluffy saga once and for all is to demolish affected houses," Ms Gallagher said.

"For Mr Fluffy homeowners, we believe this program will offer a fair and flexible solution which will remove the risk of loose fill asbestos not only to homeowners and tenants, but to the broader community."

Legislation will come before the ACT Assembly later this year.

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Katy Gallagher in 2005: "Would I do things differently now? Yes."
Katy Gallagher in 2005: "Would I do things differently now? Yes." Photo: Richard Briggs

What the government knew...

All levels of government understood that when the $100 million Commonwealth Removal Program wound up in 1993, some amosite remained and renovations, or even minor work, on these homes could be dangerous.

However, this was not adequately conveyed to the public.

The Commonwealth: As reported by The Canberra Times, the federal government was warned 25 years ago that deaths from mesothelioma would rise if people lived with Mr Fluffy insulation.

Both the National Health and Medical Research Council and occupational health academic Dr David Douglas provided separate reports to the Commonwealth on the acute health risks of Mr Fluffy in 1988 as it was preparing to remove the Class 1 carcinogen from the roof spaces of more than 1000 homes.

The ACT Government: ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher was warned in two independent internal reports since 2005 that Mr Fluffy home owners were still at risk of coming into contact with asbestos following the Commonwealth clean up.

Want to know what it looks like inside a Mr Fluffy home? We sent an iPhone up to have a look at a home in Queanbeyan:

So to re-cap once again, Mr Fluffy homeowners finally have light on the hill after Employment Minister Eric Abetz announced a $1 billion dollar loan to the ACT Government in order to buy-back and demolish their asbestos-riddled homes.

Here is what we have so far:

  • The ACT Government will borrow up to $1 billion at the Commonwealth’s interest rate over 10 years.
  • The ACT Government said it expects to collect $700 million from the sale of the vacant blocks and the remaining $300 million to be picked up by ACT ratepayers
  • Chief Minister Katy Gallagher welcomed the move, but said she had hoped that the Commonwealth would extend their support to helping with the net cost of the clean up.
  • 200 homes will be demolished a year for the next five years.
  • The Commonwealth will also offer experts to the ACT to help with the clean up.
  • Waste will be dumped in West Belconnen tip, which will be expanded.
  • Mr Abetz said responsibility for the loose fill asbestos contaminated homes in Queanbeyan to remain with the NSW and ACT Govenments.

 

ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy ...
ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher and Senator Eric Abetz during a press conference about a loan to resolve the Mr Fluffy asbestos legacy. Photo: Andrew Meares

The West Belconnen tip will be expanded so it can take on the waste from Mr Fluffy clean up, Emma Macdonald reports:

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