Shorten warns over asbestos risk

Australian deaths from asbestos-related diseases have not yet peaked, Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten has warned at the launch of a new agency to oversee the stage removal of the toxic material from all buildings over the next 18 years.

Mr Shorten said the new Office of Asbestos Safety would begin work on community awareness and education and would work to ''ultimately remove asbestos from the Australian built environment.''

The office follows a government review which called for a commonwealth-lead national effort to manage asbestos and reduce people's exposure to the material.

It is charged with costing and implementing the review's recommendations. The review stated the national agency should aim for a staged removal of asbestos from government and commercial buildings by 2030.

''Asbestos in 2010, killed, mesothelioma, killed 642 people and there are many more with lung cancers related to exposure to asbestos. Numbers of deaths from asbestos are not due to peak until 2020,'' Mr Shorten said.

''There'll be more Australians die from asbestos-related diseases, than died in the whole of the First World War.''

The report recommends reporting asbestos in residential homes built prior to 1987 with a labelling system to alert buyers, tenants and renovators to the presence of the material. The plan has been welcomed by unions and industry groups. Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz agreed that most Australians would like to see a bipartisan approach to asbestos but said he was not sure about the need for a new agency.

''We do have Safe Work Australia, we do have established bureaucracy, so I'm somewhat agnostic about establishing a new bureaucracy which could potentially cost more money,'' Senator Abetz told ABC Radio.

Asbestos - a naturally occurring substance - came into widespread industrial use in Australia during the second half of the 20th century. There is no minimum safe exposure level for any form of asbestos fibres, according to the World Health Organisation.

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