The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is considering a ban on working with materials imported from certain countries in response to the increased detection of asbestos in building and construction products.
According to information provided by Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, detection of imports compromised by asbestos has tripled over the past year. Border officers have found 40 cargo shipments with asbestos-containing materials over the past 10 months – three times more than the detections in 2015-16.
In the absence of decisive action by the federal government, and particularly the lack of punitive action against companies importing potentially deadly materials, the union is considering taking action into their own hands, asking their members not to work with products from offending nations.
Observing that it would be impossible for Border Force to inspect every shipment entering the country, CFMEU Construction Division and general national secretary Dave Noonan said it was imperative that offenders were penalised for their actions as per the law. He states that this would act as a deterrent against the manufacturing of compromised materials.
Despite the higher number of detections, the Border Force had imposed only three financial penalties for importing asbestos. In all cases, the offending companies escaped revocation or suspension of their licences. This paltry rate of prosecution has been blamed on ‘mistake of fact’ defences, in which importers argue that they thought a material was asbestos-free based on overseas testing facility reports.
If this soft approach to prosecution continues, the union says it will impose its own ban on building products from certain countries until the government takes its own decisive action.
Currently, the Queensland government is leading the charge against non-compliant building products. It, for one, has at least introduced a new chain of responsibility legislation to combat the issue.