Raising awareness, identifying priority areas for removal and working to stop importation are among key strategies of Australia’s first ever national plan to manage risks associated with asbestos.

Launched by Employment Minister Eric Abetz, the plan is supported by state and territory leaders and seeks to coordinate state and local government efforts as well as establish a national approach toward handling, removing and promoting awareness about the deadly material.

Under the framework, which covers until the end of 2018:

  • Asbestos will be removed in priority areas where asbestos-containing materials have been assessed to be in poor condition.
  • Model grading systems, frameworks and processes will be developed with regard to assessment of the condition of material which is likely to contain asbestos, the stabilisation and containment of any such materials which are considered to be in poor condition and the identification of asbestos contaminated land.
  • A ‘one-stop-shop’ will be created for information on asbestos related issues.
  • Programs to raise awareness about asbestos will be reviewed, gaps in awareness identified and training for workers such as tradespeople will be provided.
  • Australia will advocate for a worldwide ban on asbestos mining and manufacturing and develop strategies to stop asbestos coming to Australia through imported products.

Abetz said Australia had a legacy of asbestos emanating from widespread use of the material in construction products prior to a ban in 1989, and that the plan would see jurisdictions work together toward long-term practical solutions.

“This plan will result in coordinated effort across the country to reduce the deadly effects of asbestos on Australians, as well as help put Australia at the forefront of global efforts to deal with the deadly substance,” he said.

As a high level document, however, the plan does not lay out much in terms of quantifiable goals, objectives or specified timeframes for delivery. These are instead being left up to individual jurisdictions to determine for themselves.

There is no set objective, for example, for having asbestos removed from all public buildings within Australia by a specified date.

The plan comes amid growing fears about the extent of the presence of asbestos – which if inhaled can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis – within buildings and infrastructure around the country.

According to one estimate, the material may be present in as many as one-third of all homes throughout the nation.

Meanwhile, with the material continuing to be used in a number of countries, there are fears asbestos may be coming into Australia through imported products.

Last year alone, for example, the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency says the material was found in cement compound board imported from China into the ACT, a type of boiler which had previously been imported from South Korea in 2008, a shed purchased by a builder over the internet and a loss circulation material imported from China which was used in coal-seam-gas drilling rig operations to help prevent drilling fluids from moving sideways.