Taskforce rejects council criticism

Heidi Kraak

Latrobe City councillors have taken aim at the Latrobe Valley Asbestos Taskforce claiming it had “not delivered as intended” and reiterating calls for the taskforce to “work more proactively” to deliver a “single asbestos disposal facility”.

However, taskforce chair Jane Anderson, who is also the Latrobe health advocate, said the remit of the taskforce was much broader than the management of industrial asbestos waste, and that establishing an asbestos disposal cell for the region’s power industry was “not the focus of the taskforce”.

The taskforce was commissioned by the state government in February, following an election commitment, to manage asbestos material from the region’s power industry. However, its purpose has since been extended to include all types of asbestos in the region, including residential asbestos.

The taskforce has representatives from government agencies, local groups, unions and Latrobe City Council.

Councillors lined up at Monday’s meeting to slam the taskforce, with Cr Dale Harriman stating he was “bitterly disappointed” by what the taskforce had achieved so far, and Cr Sharon Gibson describing the taskforce as “a joke”.

Cr Brad Law, who initiated a motion to write to the state government on the matter, said the community had “been let down a bit” by the taskforce.

“The whole issue with this is the main function of this group [was to] set up safe and best work practices available by all operators, so both public and private wouldn’t be exposed to adverse effects … of asbestos,” he said.

“The taskforce should at least make some recommendations so we are all working with the same … recommendations.”

However, the role of the taskforce needed to be clarified, Ms Anderson said. She plans to request a meeting to brief the mayor.

She said the oversite of industrial demolition sites involving large amounts of asbestos, such as Energy Brix’s Morwell Power Station or ENGIE’s Hazelwood Power Station, was the responsibility of the Environment Protection Authority and WorkSafe.

“The purpose of the taskforce is to ensure that there is consistency, collaboration and improvements in community engagement and awareness of the management of asbestos in the Latrobe Valley,” Ms Anderson said.

“It is about identifying the shortcomings in the current system for identifying and managing asbestos and finding an agreed process for the proper management of asbestos waste material across the Latrobe Valley.”

The asbestos taskforce has held three meetings and two planning sessions since February and plans to release a list of priorities and immediate actions within “the next month or two”.

Ms Anderson said priorities of the taskforce would focus on regulation and identifying any gaps in current processes; public awareness of asbestos and where people can find information about best practice; and enforcement and reporting of asbestos-related issues.

“I’m pleased with the contributions that we are having at the taskforce and that the taskforce is bringing together these different perspectives for the first time in one room,” she said.

“They are sharing their experiences and they are identifying what we need to focus on and what hasn’t been done before.

“We’ve already identified what our focus areas are, we’ve identified some immediate actions and we are keen to get on with doing it.”