ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher has defended her handling of asbestos over the past decade, saying no jurisdiction had done more to highlight and promote safety than the ACT.
Responding to criticism that she failed to adequately warn the more than 1000 home owners affected by Mr Fluffy loose amosite asbestos in her nine years as responsible industrial relations minister, Ms Gallagher said she stood by her record and had acted on the advice she had at the time.
"I can live with everything I've done on this. Find another minister who has done what I've done on asbestos in this country, I am not big-noting, but you won't find one, and that's how I assess my own performance."
The ACT Labor government had enacted and toughened the Dangerous Substances Act, established the ACT Asbestos Taskforce in 2004 and a taskforce review, launched various education and awareness campaigns, strengthened training requirements, developed advice for asbestos in residential and non-residential buildings, ratified the International Labour Organisation's Convention on eliminating asbestos, harmonised work, health and safety laws, and reviewed its own management strategy.
Ms Gallagher accepted that in light of the current crisis engulfing the Mr Fluffy homes - in which 34 families have found unsafe levels of the class-one carcinogen in their home and moved into emergency accommodation - she could, in retrospect, have done more to promote specific information to owners.
Prior to the current crisis unfolding, just one letter was sent directly to affected owners in 2005 to alert them to the risk of renovating or disturbing their walls.
Instead, the government approached all asbestos in the ACT as a general threat.
"You operate with the information you have before you and our decision had been to deal with asbestos as a whole - given we had it in commercial buildings, it was in school buildings, it was in homes, there were renovations, it was buried under the ground, it was at North Weston Ponds, it was everywhere and we had to try and work out a whole-of-government response to that," Ms Gallagher said.
She believed at the time that the issues affecting Mr Fluffy homeowners were the same as non-Fluffy owners who had to deal with asbestos in wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens, or bonded asbestos sheeting in homes.
"Our understanding at the time of the remediation program was while there was still a risk associated with renovating Mr Fluffy homes, they were (the same risks) as people pulling out bathrooms and kitchens."
That all changed when the government spent $2 million in 2013, deconstructing a home in Downer that missed the $100 million Commonwealth remediation program. The level of contamination was so severe it sparked a far more targeted and detailed warning to owners.
Ms Gallagher said even then, it was not until the head of the federal Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, Peter Tighe, came out in the April 11 edition of The Canberra Times recommending all Mr Fluffy homes be demolished, that advice to government changed.
Until that point, all advice to government had been that the homes were safe to live in as long as the remnant amosite remained undisturbed.
"You can only act on the advice you have at the time," she said.
Now Ms Gallagher said her immediate and pressing focus is in negotiating a financial assistance package for home owners. The final report of the ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce would be discussed by Cabinet this week before being taken to the Commonwealth in a bid to secure financial support for its recommendations - overwhelmingly considered to be a buy-back and demolition scheme.
"With the benefit of hindsight, everyone can go back and pick over what was done and what should have been done," Ms Gallagher said.
"But for me the focus has to be in getting some value for these people who are sitting in homes - or not even sitting in them any more in some cases - and have their life's savings wrapped up in them ... We need to get an outcome for these families."