Asbestos campaigners urge government to release funding for agency

A group of asbestos victims held a meeting with federal politicians in Canberra on Tuesday, as part of a campaign to urge the government to release $3 million in funding to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency.

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The agency, which runs asbestos awareness and preventative programs, said they were advised that the funding – which had been allocated in previous years, but not spent – could be accessed with ministerial approval.

The agency’s request in February for Employment Minister Michaelia Cash to release the funds have gone unanswered.

“This is bureaucracy gone mad.” 

Barry Robson, who is a member of the agency’s advisory council, said the body is now significantly underfunded and doesn’t have the budget to implement its National Strategic Plan, which was signed off by all state and territory governments last year.

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He said operations are to be halted and would only resume when funding was received, which could be as late as August.

“All we have money for now is for wages for the staff, but we can’t move our programs forward,” he told SBS.

“Full closure is a possibility also. Our agency could also be re-absorbed into Department of Employment and Workplace Relations and reduced into a one-man operation… we just don’t know.

“This is bureaucracy gone mad,” he said.

When asked about the release of the funds, Ms Cash told SBS in a statement that the government had not cut the agency’s funding. She said it has been maintained at the level set by the former Labor government.

“The Labor Government provided the funding on the basis that the set up costs would reduce after the early years and the agency would then focus on its coordination role, working with the states and territories to implement ASEA’s National Strategic Plan,” she said.

Ms Cash said state and territory governments are responsible for delivering the National Strategic Plan, but she would not comment on releasing the $3 million. 

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Sydney mother-of-four Serafina Salucci, 46, is one of the victims campaigning for the funding.

Diagnosed in 2007 with the terminal asbestos-related lung cancer, mesothelioma, she said the funding was crucial.

“To me it seems simple, the money is there, it has been budgeted, it was given to the agency,” she said.

“It’s not a question about if they have the money. 

“This amount is a lot of money for the agency, but $3 million for government is a drop in the ocean.”

Ms Salucci said her exposure likely came from renovations of her family home when she was a child, which is something the agency campaigns about.

“They run several programs which can make people aware of asbestos, and could save their lives,” she said.

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Independent Senator Nick Xenophon is a supporter of the campaign and said the funds should be immediately released.

Among the politicians in support of the funding release was senators Jacqui Lambie and Lisa Singh.

The agency was established with bipartisan support in 2013.

It told a Senate estimates hearing in 2015 that it did not have a sufficient budget to implement its programs.