Coalition knew of Telstra asbestos: Labor

Coalition knew of Telstra asbestos: Labor

Summary: Federal Labor has come out claiming that the Howard government was aware of Telstra's asbestos problem.


The Howard coalition government was aware that 12 years ago, there was an asbestos problem in Telstra's pits and ducts, federal Labor has said.

"The previous government knew all about it, and did nothing about it," Cabinet Minister Craig Emerson told Sky News on Tuesday.

Telstra has been accused of cutting corners when handing over infrastructure to the National Broadband Network (NBN) builder NBN Co, after contractors and communities raised fears that they had been exposed to the deadly material.

The Gillard government has been under pressure from the Coalition to explain when and how much it knew about the asbestos problem at Telstra.

Fairfax Media has said that the giant telco wanted to create an independent body to accelerate compensation, and sought approval from the Department of Workplace Relations in 2001.

However, the department, then under the ministerial leadership of opposition leader Tony Abbott, rejected the plan.

"He's the guy now complaining," Dr Emerson said.

"This is nothing more than a way of attacking the National Broadband Network by the Coalition."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon called for an independent inquiry by the auditor general.

"This is a AU$40 billion project. How could this risk not have been managed better?" he said to reporters in Canberra.

Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham said the government had failed to show that it was capable of managing a major project.

Telstra had done what Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her communications minister could not, he said.

"Telstra is taking responsibility for getting things right at their end," Birmingham said. "The government needs to take responsibility and acknowledge the fact ... that there are indeed contractors for NBN who have mishandled asbestos."

Labor Senator Doug Cameron insisted that the government had reacted quickly and efficiently.

"It's absolutely essential that workers ... carry out their functions in as safe manner and the public is protected," he said.

Opposition regional communications spokesman Luke Hartsuyker said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has questions to answer.

"Has undue pressure placed by the government on contractors caused the round of shoddy workmanship that is leaving us in this position?" he asked reporters.

Topics: Government AU, Telstra, NBN

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Spoken like try Labor

    completely incapable of ever accepting responsibility for their own incompetence!
    • Huhhh

      And precisely how is it Labor's problem, this issue goes back 30 years and was very well known. The lease agreement with Telstra on a fit for purpose basis adressed this, Telstra's responsibility to finish what they stopped doing 20 years ago as part of the remediation they have agreed to
      Abel Adamski
  • true not try

  • I'd suggest...

    Regardless of the politics (I'm sure both sides knew, so...nothing to see here, move along) the pits are the still property of Telstra...
    • Everyone knew

      It's not a secret. Asbestos is a big problem in homes & businesses as well.

      Plenty to see: Why was such a known OH&S issue handled so poorly? What additional risks are now present? What is the health and financial exposure?

      One of many NBNCo issues; badly thought out, badly executed.
      Richard Flude
      • Yes...

        A big problem in homes and businesses... all NBNCo's fault...says Richard.

        BTW, Mr Educated it's WH&S now, FFS...
      • Richard?

        Are you telling us that Telstra is a shonky fly by night company that needs to be supervised at every step.??
        Telstra had their contracted obligations and failed end of story.

        The more interesting story is the timing of the media storm, the subject is not new - it has been mentioned several times in media items for some time.

        But Voila NBN reports doing well and on track with excellent take up figures, which did not appear in the MSM as swamped by the News Ltd generated asbestos media storm.
        Abel Adamski
      • So your position is...

        ...that someone renting something should be responsible for how something was built?
  • still the

  • "He's the guy now complaining," Dr Emerson said.

    "Fairfax Media has said that the giant telco wanted to create an independent body to accelerate compensation, and sought approval from the Department of Workplace Relations in 2001. However, the department, then under the ministerial leadership of opposition leader Tony Abbott, rejected the plan."

    Why would he do that?
  • "Telstra has been accused of cutting corners when handing over infrastructure to the National Broadband Network (NBN) builder NBN Co, after contractors and communities raised fears that they had been exposed to the deadly material."

    That's Telstra;-)
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • The deadliness of asbestos

    Is highly exaggerated. It's more dangerous to your health to remove it than to leave it in place.
    • True

      However copper cables need replacing, councils perform works and damage pits, accidents happen, backhoes are not selective. It always has been a ticking time bomb. Telstra has been paying compo to their workers, Strange Telstra moved from employees working on the Pits/Ducts etc and had contractors doing the work - Less compo???
      Abel Adamski
  • Asbestos Liability

    The Howard Liberal Government passed the asbestos liability to ordinary mums and dads they sold shares to without disclosure of liabilities in the Telstra prospectus when they privatised Telstra.
    This is clearly a criminal offence and the Minister/public officials responsible should be brought before the courts.
    It now sets up the situation if remediation costs Telstra shareholders potentially billions of dollars that the Howard Government may be found liable when this matter hits the courts after Telstra 's shareholders loose value. Subsequent Governments will be bound to redress shareholders.
    Where does Turnbull think nodes are located? It's in the very same pits that his FTTN solution will have to use.
    Now the public knows that Telstra pits contain asbestos, there is no way that they can be left where they are. They are going to all have to be remediated regardless of whose NBN is installed and even if no NBN is installed, Telstra workers still have to use these pits and have to be protected.
    Kevin Cobley
    • Correct

      The issue was well known within the industry, but not to the would be investors. But then the whole deal was shonky, that's why the shares dropped from $9 to less than $5. The con artists flim flam blew away leaving reality
      Abel Adamski
  • Independent Senator Nick Xenophon

    This guy lives in his own mystical new age fairyland existence, he thinks Wind Farms damages health with "low frequency sound" and now it's the NBN damaging health. Never seen Nick railing against heavy metal contamination particularly Mercury from Fossil Fuel operations.
    He has got his good points poker machines are an abomination and should be abolished.
    Kevin Cobley
  • Asbestos can be dangerous but....

    The issue I have with this is the sensationalism of the problem. It looks like untrained workers noticed it was asbestos and stoped working, which is exactly what they should have done. Maybe a few kept working and are at risk and I agree especially if Telstra knew that some form of training and avice should have been given and it is perfectly acceptable if that advice was to stop work, secure the site and report it.

    I work in IT and i had to do a white card course just to go into new buildings. I was told on that course if you spot asbestos or a substance you are not sure of, do not disturb it any further and report it. Its common sense.

    BUT the media have hyped it up to the point residents are concerned yet they have more chance of winning the lotto than having issues from the asbestos found. People are irrational, they'll drive stupidly on the roads, yet complain when something with a far smaller chance of harming them occurs, or stupid nimby arguments against wind farm noise for example.

    The way I look at this problem, is that all pit and pipe remediation work will need to be done and the reason it was not done was because Telstra trying to maximise profits, the same reason the copper hasn't been maitained.
    Justin Watson
  • Turnbull's asbestos pronouncements

    Turnbull on yesterdays episode of Lateline stated that the new Liberal Government would not be installing any fibre to the home, that was up to "Future Governments".
    At last we've got the truth from Turnbull.
    He also stated that Labor's Shorten was conducting an asbestos scare campaign!
    Gee I thought it was the Opposition/News Limited with all their screaming and shouting yesterday in Parliament and pages of Newspaper bile.
    Turnbull's says the Liberals were going to largely leave asbestos where it is. He didn't explain who was going to be working in the asbestos pits installing his node cabinets and seemed to suggest that it would all be connected up without accessing the pits, he's obviously hired Samantha Stevens.
    Kevin Cobley
  • I think it is

    understood that Telstra, the governments of the day were aware of the asbestos used in some pits. The game changer is that the NBN roll out requires pits to be replaced to facilitate installation of the fibre. It is generally acknowledged that asbestos is safe if left unworked, that is not drilled, standed or otherwise broken up. My thoughts are as I apportion blame ( we all like to do that) is why did this issue not become apparent during the trial site roll outs? Why is anyone in both NBN Co and Telstra surprised about this matter as it becomes a media circus.
    Blank Look
    • It was well Known

      And Telstra was supposed to be attending to it under the terms of the CONTRACT. Possibly part of the reason for the delays in Telstra's remediation.

      Sure "safe" when not disturbed, so copper cables and pairs can never be replaced or repaired, the pits pipes and ducts will never be impacted or dug up or damaged in any way. Properties and suburbs can never be upgraded, or we choose to be trapped by the mistakes of the past
      Abel Adamski