Banned asbestos and other dangerous building products are slipping past customs officials and being used in Australian homes and building sites, a senate inquiry has heard.
The national construction union has made a submission to the inquiry saying building materials containing asbestos, formaldehyde and cheap glass that explodes are being imported and used in Australia.
Brad Parker, assistant national secretary of the CFMEU Construction Division, said the Australian Border Force was seriously under resourced to intercept the arrival of dangerous building products.
“Non-conforming building products touch nearly every part of our daily lives. From asbestos that kills to cheap glass that explodes, to flat pack kitchens reeking of formaldehyde,” Mr Parker said.
Mr Parker said Russian manufacturers had spread their tentacles into developing countries across eastern Asia. He said the Russian companies were heavy handed in their marketing of asbestos-containing products at international trade shows and had lobbied against any bans on the products.
CFMEU officials found insulation products containing asbestos on construction sites in Brisbane and Perth last year. Mr Parker said there were “dodgy builders who’ll do anything to save a buck ordering from dodgy suppliers who send lethal, banned material to our country because they know the government won’t do anything about it”.
“These products are only slightly cheaper than Australian-made products, which comply with the law and do not contain poisonous asbestos,” Mr Parker said.
The senate inquiry hearing in Brisbane on Monday heard products from countries including China, Sri Lanka and the US contained asbestos.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions said it was alarmed at the level of contaminated products being imported into Australia without adequate regulation.
ACTU assistant secretary Michael Borowick said stronger penalties and better border protections are needed to ensure consumers were not unwitting exposed to lethal products which have been banned since 2004.
“Australian Border Force must be specifically resourced to properly monitor all imports and better protect people from this dangerous material,” he said.
“Given a single exposure to asbestos can lead to decades of uncertainty and illness and in many cases death, it should be treated with the same seriousness as any prohibited drug or substance.”
Senator Nick Xenophon called for an overhaul of regulations covering the importation of high-risk products from countries including the US and China without a zero tolerance of asbestos products. He said the Australian Federal Police should be on alert for any allegations of organised criminal links to the importation of asbestos products.
Senator Xenophon said it was “outrageous” Australia was still receiving imported building products containing asbestos. He said there ought to be mandatory testing to ensure they met Australian standards and that their certification of contents was accurate.
“If we don’t sort this out now we will have another tsunami of asbestos-related deaths in years to come,” he said.
Senator Xenophon has proposed that all building products from countries including the US, China, Indonesia and India be certified to Australian standards as being 100 per cent asbestos free.
“Any country without a zero tolerance to asbestos in their products should be banned from importing into Australia, unless every one of their products is tested prior to arrival on Australian shores,” he said.
Source: The Age