Nick Xenophon says he has received advice that China counts products that have 5 per cent or less asbestos by weight as ‘asbestos free’
Australia should consider imposing World Trade Organisation sanctions on countries that do not have robust regulatory systems that prevent goods containing asbestos from being exported, crossbench kingpin Nick Xenophon says.
Senator Xenophon – who is expected to control three crucial votes on the Senate crossbench in the new Parliament – signalled on Tuesday that he would seek to reconvene a Senate inquiry into building products following revelations the $1.2 billion Perth Children’s Hospital project and the 1 William Street tower in Brisbane were contaminated by asbestos in products supplied by Chinese company Yuanda.
He said he had received advice that China counted products that had 5 per cent or less asbestos by weight as “asbestos free”, a definition he said would mean that a vehicle lined with asbestos would be regarded in that category.
Senator Xenophon told The Australian Financial Review that the revelations of asbestos content in building products did not just have public health consequences but also economic ones for competing industries in Australia, and for companies that had unwittingly used the asbestos-laden goods and therefore faced possible legal action or obligations to replace the faulty products.
Nick Xenophon says he has received advice that China counts products that have 5 per cent or less asbestos by weight as …
Nick Xenophon says he has received advice that China counts products that have 5 per cent or less asbestos by weight as ‘asbestos free’. David Mariuz
The interim report of an inquiry by the Senate standing committee on economics into non-conforming building products, released earlier this month, focused on a range of faulty imported building products that posed long-term safety risks, and Senator Xenophon said he would be calling for the committee to be reconstituted as one of his acts when Parliament returned next month.
There have been calls from industry bodies and unions for Australian compliance testing regimes to be tightened, and more prosecutions, after recent revelations about asbestos.
Sense of urgency
But Senator Xenophon said the possibility of using the international trading regime to force a change should also be considered.
“We have to work through this with some urgency,” he said. “Companies are receiving compliance certificates that are worthless. There ought to be scope for action and we ought to be able to apply WTO sanctions to countries that don’t have robust regulatory systems to prevent asbestos products from being sent out of their countries,” he said.
Ai Group called last week on state ministers responsible for building materials to tighten the weak testing and certification processes that had led to products containing asbestos being installed in the Perth Children’s Hospital.
This followed a statement from the Australian Border Force that it was holding all imports of Yuanda Australia pending tests to ensure they did not contain asbestos, a prohibited import.
The states, which set their own regulations around building materials, and the federal authorities, which manage the country’s borders and import protections, are grappling with compliance systems that have largely proven ineffective at preventing the import of non-conforming building products, illegal imports or counterfeit imports falsely labelled as meeting Australian standards.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection told a Senate inquiry this year that the total amount of fines, penalties and costs imposed for asbestos importation offences since 2009 stood at just $64,000.