Why Mr Fluffy is such a big deal in Canberra

Why Mr Fluffy is such a big deal in Canberra

The legacy of Mr Fluffy amosite asbestos in Canberra - indiscriminate in location and victims - will have a lasting impact on the territory's economy and the families who call the ACT home.

With more than 1000 families coming to terms with news their homes will be demolished as part of a $1 billion buyback scheme, here's a look at why the saga has become such a big deal in the ACT.

Amosite asbestos has a deadly legacy

Amosite asbestos is a toxic substance and a key cause of mesothelioma; a rare cancer that causes malignant tumours to develop around the lungs.

More than 10,000 Australians have been diagnosed with mesothelioma since the early 1980s and up to 25,000 Australians are expected to die from mesothelioma in the next four decades.


Inhaling asbestos fibres can also lead to the thickening of tissue around the lungs, scarring of lung tissue and lung cancer.

More than 1000 homes affected

Mr Fluffy asbestos was spread throughout more than 70 Canberra suburbs in the 1970s and was concentrated most heavily in Curtin, Pearce and Kambah.

The loose-fill asbestos insulation was discovered by assessors more than 30 years ago to have been pumped into ceilings in Belconnen, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong and Gungahlin as well as in inner-south and north Canberra.

Mr Fluffy has been identified in 103 homes in Tuggeranong, more than 30 homes in Fisher, Farrer, Holder, Lyons, Torrens and Weston, and just under 30 homes in Chapman, Duffy, Flynn, Hackett, Melba and Rivett.

Big hit to the ACT budget

When announcing the $1 billion Commonwealth loan on Tuesday, Senator Eric Abetz acknowledged Canberra couldn't borrow the required amount without compromising other loans and its credit rating.

With a budget of only $5 billion, the ACT is now going into debt with the help of the Commonwealth to a level it couldn't risk if borrowing directly.

With revenue dropping, and light rail about to drain the coffers, the ACT Government is already struggling with deficit.

Everyone ends up paying

The net cost to ACT taxpayers of the Mr Fluffy clean-up will be at least $300 million, which will have a huge impact on a small jurisdiction.

Best-case scenario, Ms Gallagher will recoup $700 million through land sales, implying a sale price for each block averaging $700,000. It's not yet clear how she will realise these prices, but subdivision and the rezoning of blocks where possible will help.

The ACT government will shelve or delay major infrastructure projects (with the exception of light rail) as it prepares for the costs of the clean-up.

House prices could rise

The Real Estate Institute of the ACT has warned of an artificial price boom, with hundreds of Mr Fluffy families looking for new homes following confirmation of a buy-back scheme.

ACT chief executive officer Ron Bell said the decision would have an impact on the housing market.

"If we didn't have a good stockpile of properties to purchase, and we don't, and all of a sudden you had 200 families looking for a property … you could have an artificial boom," Mr Bell said.

Tradies affected

Canberra's tradespeople will ultimately pay the highest price for exposure to Mr Fluffy asbestos, according to the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union.

Union secretary Dean Hall said Canberra tradespeople had unwittingly been subjected to decades of exposure to deadly asbestos and the union was dealing with more members notifying them they had contracted asbestos-related diseases.

"Obviously we feel for all the homeowners suffering from Mr Fluffy, but there is also a huge amount of fear and anger in the industry at the situation that so much exposure has occurred over the past decades."

Could become Australia's largest acquisition scheme

National law firm Slater and Gordon has warned the buy-back scheme may become Australia's largest mass acquisition of residential properties.

Slater and Gordon land acquisition specialist Manisha Blencowe said a distinctive feature of the Mr Fluffy saga was the number of homes affected.

For comparison, around 200 properties are likely to be acquired as a result of Victoria's East West Link Project or Sydney's NorthConnex and WestConnex projects.

- with Kirsten Lawson, Emma Macdonald, Ross Peake, and Tom McIlroy.

Henry Belot is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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