I spoke in the House to the ACT Government Loan Bill 2014, a bill to assist the Australian Capital Territory deal with the devastating legacy of Mr Fluffy loose asbestos in Canberra homes.
ACT Government Loan Bill 2014
House of Representatives
2 December 2014
The ACT Government Loan Bill 2014 provides the appropriate mechanism for the provision of $750 million in the form of a concessional loan to the ACT government to deliver a program to buy back and demolish houses in the ACT affected by Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos. It is part of the $1 billion loan facility agreed between the federal and ACT governments on 28 October 2014. Seven hundred and fifty million dollars will be paid this financial year, with the remaining $250 million to be paid next financial year. The ACT government then plans to buy and demolish 1,021 homes contaminated with Mr Fluffy loose-fill asbestos insulation.
The Mr Fluffy asbestos affair has affected thousands of Canberrans. It involves 1,021 properties across 58 suburbs, directly impacting approximately 4,500 people. The ACT government personal support team has intensively engaged with homeowners to deal with their individual circumstances. They have six officers and a dedicated Canberra Connect task force call team also has six officers. There have been payments of financial emergency assistance to families now exceeding $1.2 million, which includes support for hazard reduction works of properties, temporary accommodation and the replacement of essential contaminated items. This has been deeply traumatic for the many families involved in the ACT. I pay tribute to the Gallagher government for the way in which they have handled this unique situation, which has affected so many Canberrans.
I myself have heard firsthand from many of these families about the impact that it has had on them and on their lives. Last Thursday, the member for Canberra and I tabled the first group impact statement, 'Hope in grief: confronting Mr Fluffy's toxic legacy in Canberra and Queanbeyan', compiled by the Fluffy Owners and Residents' Action Group. Many of the Mr Fluffy affected families were in the Federation Chamber as I spoke.
And as soon as I turned around I saw tears running down many of their faces.
It has affected families because they have regarded their homes as being safe and sacrosanct, and now they find that their homes have contained loose-fill asbestos—potentially deadly. This has been traumatic for families who have young children, where those children may have been affected. One woman told me about her sense of betrayal for her friends. She had conducted extensive renovation work on the home, including work where many of their friends had helped out, and had moved through the roof cavity. The feeling, now, that she had exposed her friends to potentially toxic loose-fill asbestos left her feeling deeply pained.
The Mr Fluffy legacy is a 50-year legacy and the ACT government has been informed that the homes affected cannot be made safe. That is why the ACT government has taken the approach that it has. Following 600-odd assessments that have been conducted this year, the ACT government has opted to demolish the 1,021 houses. As Chief Minister Gallagher has noted:
Canberra is a kind and caring city. This is part of what makes it a great place to live. We have seen it over the years that when some are struggling or suffering, the community rallies to support them and do what we can to help.
That is what the ACT government is doing in the case of Mr Fluffy—partnering with the Community and Expert Reference Group, Canberra Connect, the ACT Medicare Local and the Chief Health Officer. As Chief Minister Gallagher has done, I acknowledge Sue Packer, Simon Corbell, Andrew Kefford—the taskforce head—and Brianna Heseltine for their work in particular on behalf of those affected by Mr Fully loose-fill asbestos.
In the time remaining I wish simply to quote from some of the accounts in the impact statement which I tabled earlier in the Federation Chamber. Clare of Hackett says:
More than anything, I hope that our daughters have not been exposed to a dangerous amount of amosite. Will I spend the rest of my life wondering? Will I die wondering?
Christina of Ainslie says:
We don't have people over any more. We meet up with friends and family at their houses. We don't change the light bulbs anymore—two are blown in the lounge room but I don't want to disturb the fittings and release any fibres. When the wind blows hard, I lie awake wondering if it will stir up the remnant fibres in the subfloor or walls and bring it into the house ... We can never relax while we live in this house.
Christine of Ainslie says:
I have lived in my home since 1978, my three children were raised there and it is the home I shared with my late husband.
The first we new about Mr Fluffy was during the 1980s-90s clean-up program. It had been installed prior to our purchasing the home. Our entire family was uprooted during the clean-up and moved back in under the impression that our home had been made safe.
She goes on to say:
The re-emergence of Mr Fluffy into my life has been hugely traumatic. I am a 66-year-old, semi-retired widow living alone in my family home. I have never in my life known such stress and anxiety for such an extended time.
An anonymous contributor to the impact report, who is from Aranda, says:
I am profoundly worried for our son who is now six years old.
That we have inadvertently exposed him to this form of asbestos is something that we will live with for the rest of our lives. The burden of time lays heavily on us as we face years of waiting to find if his life will be shortened. All we can do is hold on to the hope that his genetic path isn't interrupted by Mr Fluffy.
Jenny of Aranda says:
We have been fortunate in that our asbestos assessment did not find any asbestos in our living areas, although a number of remediation tasks need to be undertaken. This test result was very welcome but it plays on my mind that other people have also been given clear test results only to have them overturned at subsequent assessments. I still do not feel safe.
An anonymous 36-year-old from Belconnen is a constituent who has been living overseas. She says:
Our work overseas will finish in early 2015. I am pregnant with our first child, and will give birth shortly after returning to Canberra. We will have nowhere to live, and unless the government provides generous compensation, we will be financially insolvent. This is not the environment we had imagined bringing a baby into the world.
An anonymous person who has been living in an ex-guvvie home for 45 years says:
Living in one of these houses is like living on a knife edge, we never know from one day to the next if our health is going to be a problem. As grandparents we don't worry so much about our health, as that of our family—will they have full and happy lives or are they going to suffer because of the contamination already in their bodies? The uncertainty of how long this whole mess will take to resolve and what the result will be, adds to the many problems we face.
An anonymous 38-year-old in Chapman says:
We have put ourselves and more distressingly our young children at risk of terrible health issues, not to mention our friends and family, who had been in our house, staying for periods of time, or just visiting, for the entire time we have lived there. We have had to deal with having to explain to people what is going on, the stigma attached to "Mr Fluffy" and seeing their minds realising that they have been put at risk (or worse, verbally attacking you for putting them and their children at risk).
An anonymous Deakin resident says:
We have worked hard to make this house our home: we have spent considerable time, effort and money over the years to achieve the sanctuary we enjoyed. Our garden is my husband's work of art. His tireless work in this area has yielded a pleasing outside environment for our home—an environment that will most likely be destroyed, along with our house.
Jennifer, 42, of Dickson says:
We discovered that our home was a Mr Fluffy house only a few weeks ago in July 2014. We had just returned from a family holiday and the registered letter was waiting for us. I remember distinctly my response to the letter … acute nausea. I lost 2kgs in about 4 days, experienced many sleepless nights and was nervous, trembling and teary. I could not perform at work. I could not reveal my emotions to my children. I felt I was wound tight … tight like a spring.
Matt, 37, of Duffy says:
I don't want to live in the house I was so proud to have bought on my own 15 years ago! I hate my house and I hate the fact I have to live in it until the government makes a decision. I tell my wife every day that I do not want to live in this home and I feel I have let my family down and given them a death sentence for allowing them to live in a home that was a Mr Fluffy home. I believe that if my wife or my children become ill with an asbestos-related disease that it will be my fault for buying this house and for trying to upgrade it.
Sharon and Damien, in their 40s, of Flynn say:
Our plans, no, our world was shattered at 6:00 pm on 16 July 2014, when we read the registered letter, we were not prepared for the enormity, the impact or the gamut of emotions the words contained within held.
We have cried for what we have done to our children.
Leonie, 39, of Hackett says:
My husband took on a project to install a large water tank in the garden, he spent three whole days in the subfloor space putting the plumbing together.
We have both lost parents to cancer and we are well aware of how horrific it is. The thought of our children going through the same is unbearable.
Sharon, 36, of Kambah says:
I am now regrettably one of the 31 families that have been moved out of their family home. We received a phone call on Wednesday 6th August 2014 and were informed that asbestos fibres had been found in all our 4 wardrobes, linen press and heater intake. … I arranged for our family to stay with friends, I packed some toiletries and left the house literally with the clothes on my back.
Nina, 39, of Kambah says:
My husband and I purchased our unrenovated almost-original 1975 home in Kambah in late 2002, a couple of months after getting engaged. We renovated every inch of it.
But now, she says:
… three positive samples have been found in the house.
I am 39 years old and have poured more than a decade into creating our home; made up of both our physical property and our two beautiful children. What do we have now?
Edwina and Joh, 42 and 37, from Kambah say:
What haunts us is the knowledge that both of our sons have been under our home, an area that we now know is contaminated.
Katie, 25, from Kambah says:
Our report came back positive on all six samples with a high reading for asbestos fibres. The assessors informed us that we were no longer to enter the house. We have since done the heartbreaking task of telling our family and friends that they have been exposed to asbestos fibres whilst helping us renovate and that we are so sorry for putting them in this situation where their health might be at risk in the future.
Lisa, from Latham says:
… our worst fears materialised as we were notified that we had Crocidolite (Blue asbestos) in every cupboard in every bedroom, our linen closet and worst of all, in our heating ducts. Blue asbestos had likely been airborne in our home via the ducted heating, allowing it to settle on or in carpet, furniture, toys, beds, clothes, linen and most frighteningly the lungs of only my husband and myself, but our two precious children.
We had to leave with only the clothes on our backs, which also needed to be promptly replaced and disposed of like toxic waste.
She then goes on to tell the story of her three-year-old son's birthday on 21 July 2014, when she received a phone call from the asbestos assessor. Lisa said:
I was now in the middle of an emotional breakdown in a shopping centre food court. … A stranger approached me and said: "I don't know what is wrong, but I can see you are very upset. Let me take your baby and feed her so you can talk to whomever you are talking to. Let me help you." This lovely lady sat at a table with me and kept my baby content while I fell apart.
This story speaks to the generosity with which Canberrans have reached out to those affected by Mr Fluffy asbestos.
Betty, 80, of Watson says:
I used to look back on our time in this home with such fondness and love. Bringing our babies home, milestones in their lives and the many happy occasions and celebrations we shared. Those once beautiful memories are now tarnished with fear. Fear for the multiple generations of our family who have been exposed to deadly fibres.
The impact report contains many more stores that speak to the Mr Fluffy legacy. It has scarred this generation. I pay tribute to the emotional strength those affected by Mr Fluffy have shown through this extraordinarily difficult time in their lives.