Calls for tougher asbestos penalties

The federal government is being urged to consider increasing penalties for illegally importing asbestos.

A Labor-led Senate committee is also calling for compulsory recalls where asbestos is found in consumer products.

It has made more than two dozen recommendations in an interim report released on Wednesday arising from an inquiry into non-conforming building products.

The committee said it was concerned by the apparent lack of enforcement of the ban on asbestos since it came into force in 2003 and believes there should be a greater focus on prosecutions.

“The committee believes that increasing the number of successful prosecutions and reviewing the quantum of penalties would have a significant deterrent effect on the illegal importation of asbestos,” the report said.

It wants a new mandatory testing regime and tighter rules for importers to ensure the products they bring in are safe.

It has also recommended the government consider creating a specialist unit within the Australian Border Force to manage illegal asbestos importation.

In addition, the committee has proposed the consumer watchdog conduct compulsory product recalls where asbestos is found unless there are significant issues and risks associated with it.

In cases where a recall isn’t issued, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission must publish reasons for that decision within a month.

The call to increase penalties for importers was welcomed by the ACTU, which will push for them to be introduced immediately.

However coalition senators argued the interim report was “significantly overreaching” in its recommendations.

In a dissenting report, they noted that Border Force have significantly increased their operational efforts towards addressing the risk of asbestos but have not seen a commensurate increase in the rate of detections.


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