ACT News


Shane Rattenbury grew up in an unremediated Mr Fluffy house

The Fluffy legacy has touched the lives of Canberra's politicians, with the Greens' Shane Rattenbury revealing he grew up in a Fluffy house while the asbestos insulation was still in the ceiling.

The kitchen and bathroom had been renovated when he lived there, and like many families, the kids' bikes had been stored below the house, he said.

"That thought sits in the back of your mind for many years to come," he said.

The Liberals' Andrew Wall said as a carpenter and construction supervisor he had worked in the roofs of Fluffy houses.

Mr Rattenbury said his mother had rented a Fluffy house in Musgrave Street, Yarralumla, from about 1985 to 1990, when he was a teenager. They had moved out just before the remediation. He hadn't known it was a Fluffy house until his mother called him a couple of months ago with the news. The house had been since demolished.

Mr Rattenbury was reluctant to speak in detail about his family's situation, insisting his story was just one of thousands. 

"This is not a story about a terrible thing for me, this is something that's played out through this city over a long period of time for a lot of people.

"And there's a long way to go on this story. We will see people diagnosed and we don't know who but people will be diagnosed for many years to come and for some people that will be in the back of their minds. Hopefully not too many. People shouldn't let their lives be constrained by this, but it will rattle around."

Mr Rattenbury says parents should not have to wear the guilt. 

"You see the stories now of the parents who say 'I bought this house three or four years ago, I've brought my young children into it', and the terrible sense of guilt that they convey. That's not a guilt that they should have to bear because no one knew. But that is for some people a really tough part of this story."

As well as the 1021 families living in the homes today and the many thousands who had lived in them over nearly 50 years, others played in them, visited them, worked on them, and in the case of firefighters, fought fires in them.

A Canberra Times analysis showed nearly a quarter of homes had changed hands three or more times just in the 22 years since the clean-up, not counting the 20 years before that when the asbestos insulation remained in ceilings.

"It's a shared history we all have as a community," Mr Rattenbury said, "and hopefully today puts a punctuation point on that story. It's not the end, but it is the beginning of the end." 

Mr Wall said he worked in the family construction business for six years and had worked on at least two Fluffy houses he knew of, including one where the owner had been forced to leave this year because of the extent of contamination. There were probably many more he didn't know about. "It's just the nature of the work that's done in the building industry every day," he said. "The legacy of this is going to be long-lasting and far-reaching. The number of people that have potentially been exposed is unmeasurable, be it from builders doing construction work, to kids around for a birthday party playing under the house."

But he, like Mr Rattenbury, was not dwelling on his own health.

"It's the fact of it. You work with chemicals, you work in dusty, dirty places all the time. My way of thinking about it is what's done is done. You can't change it. But the unknown is what you worry about."