Rebecca White MP | Labor Member for Lyons
Mystery surrounds the Hodgman Liberal Government’s treatment of Royal Hobart Hospital health staff and construction workers in the fallout of potential exposure to asbestos – specifically whether protocols have been followed in referring them to the National Asbestos Register.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said both the Health Minister Michael Ferguson and Building and Construction Minister Guy Barnett had today dodged questions in State Parliament about appropriate protocols for staff potentially exposed to the dangerous fibres in a series of mishaps at the RHH redevelopment.
“We know there have been three separate incidents in the past month – one of them involving 40 administration and clinical staff – but what we don’t know is what the government and Mr Ferguson are doing to look after the staff in their care,” Ms White said.
“In all circumstances when people are potentially exposed to asbestos, they should be automatically referred to the National Asbestos Register which is designed to keep records of Australians in the event of future illnesses.
“Yet today when directly asked if health staff at the hospital involved in exposure incidents had been referred to the Register, Mr Ferguson could not – or would not – answer.
“Similarly, when asked directly if construction workers of the joint venture partner on the project had been referred to the Register, Mr Barnett could not – or would not – answer.
“If these staff have not been referred, that’s a disgraceful breach of the trust placed in Mr Ferguson to protect and care for health workers.
“We believe, having spoken to a number of staff involved, that they have not been placed on the register.
“We know that the first incidences of construction workers exposed to asbestos occurred in August last year and there have been at least five more since and if Mr Barnett is unaware of that it’s equally disgraceful.”
Ms White urged any worker who believed they had been exposed to asbestos to make enquiries with the National Asbestos Register at:
Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has called on the Liberal Government to support workers at JBS at Longford.
112 workers at the abattoir will be stood down as the business deals with a nationwide livestock shortage.
“This is a devastating blow for the workers and their families,” Ms White said.
“Even the temporary loss of employment puts enormous pressure on someone. I hope the abattoir can return to full production as soon as possible.
“The State Government must do everything it can to support workers and their families through this uncertain period.
“The opposition has been in contact with both the company and the union to offer our support.
“I thank JBS for its willingness to engage and keep the lines of communication open. It’s so important that workers have a clear picture of the situation.
“The previous state government worked closely with agencies like Centrelink to help workers and their families through similar situations to this.
“The Liberal Government must be proactive and compassionate.”
Yet another incident involving potential exposure to asbestos at the Royal Hobart Hospital shows Health Minister Michael Ferguson has failed to implement adequate safeguards to protect patients and staff.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said the third incident in a fortnight involving potential exposure to asbestos should be a wake-up call to the Minister and the government that a thorough audit needed to be carried out around the much-delayed redevelopment and across the hospital.
“Now that we have witnessed the third incident – this time when dust fell on an intensive care patient – it’s time for Mr Ferguson to get hands-on and at least attempt to get to the bottom of the situation at the hospital,” Ms White said.
“It’s not good enough that there do not appear to be appropriate and uniform controls in place regarding safe work practices to protect patients and staff.
“It’s not good enough that Michael Ferguson has consistently left it up to bureaucrats and departmental staff to explain the situation when as Health Minister, he should be stepping up to take responsibility and explain to Tasmanians what is happening at their hospital.
“Without offering any assurance Tasmanians are right to believe Mr Ferguson is hiding away from what is a very worrying on-going situation and they want answers.
“Nobody wants to see patients and staff exposed to asbestos and it’s a huge relief that preliminary testing in this latest incident has shown asbestos was not present in air samples.
“But Mr Ferguson owes patients and staff and all Tasmanians a satisfactory explanation around the entire situation.”
Shadow Primary Industries Minister Rebecca White has urged the Government to listen to the growing calls for an independent inquiry into cloud seeding.
“The community concern is too big for the Liberal Government to ignore,” Ms White said.
“Farmers want a fresh, independent assessment of why Hydro was cloud seeding on the eve of major flooding events across the state and whether it had an impact.
“The call is backed by a large number of community leaders and the Premier and Energy Minister should be listening.
“Hydro’s internal report into its activity has not satisfied the Tasmanian community.
“Hydro itself recognises the need for a more detailed review.
“The new Federal Members for Braddonand Lyons, Justine Keay and Brian Mitchell, have shown leadership in calling for an independent inquiry and they have the strong backing of state Labor.
“Will Hodgman and Matthew Groom should immediately establish an independent investigation.”
Cagey Health Minister Michael Ferguson waited until he had been questioned over the latest asbestos scare at the Royal Hobart Hospital before he came clean with Tasmanians.
Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care Rebecca White said while the latest asbestos scare was flagged in D Block at the hospital on Wednesday, Mr Ferguson waited until he was questioned by the media on Thursday afternoon before he elected to make the alarming find public.
“Yet again we see this highly secretive, sneaky and underhanded Minister attempt to keep a worrying and potentially dangerous situation from the Tasmanian public,” Ms White said.
“Yet again we see Mr Ferguson attempt to keep staff and patients in the dark when he should be doing everything he can to assure them around the situation.
“Why did it take enquiries from the media before he elected to make a public announcement?
“It’s the staff and the patients and the general public who will be concerned about their potential exposure to asbestos and it’s those same people who expect and deserve this Minister to be honest with them – they don’t expect him to play silly and secretive games.
“This latest scare is very concerning - just as last week’s find was – and what’s just as concerning is that in both instances Mr Ferguson had ample opportunity to keep Tasmanians informed and on both occasions he failed dismally.
“Under his watch, the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment has become a disaster zone but rather than hide and hope nobody will find out when incidents occur, Mr Ferguson has an obligation as the Minister in charge of Tasmania’s health system to be upfront.
“My genuine concern is for the staff and patients and I trust that Mr Ferguson has directed his department to provide them with timely and fulsome information.
“There’s no excuse for his continued behaviour to keep them in the dark.”
The Hodgman Liberal Government and Health Minister Michael Ferguson have no credibility in the critical preventative health area, releasing a copycat obesity program containing measures they trashed and belittled a year ago.
Shadow Health and Preventative Care Minister Rebecca White said when Labor took the first step in proposing a ban on sugary drinks in school canteens in line with the recommendations of Diabetes Tasmania a year ago, Mr Ferguson had labelled the plan “nanny statism”.
In May last year after the release of Labor’s Rethink Sugary Drink policy, Mr Ferguson said:
“Everyone wants to see a healthier Tasmania, however Labor’s lazy thought-bubble of prohibition and regulation would see Tasmania become a nanny state where, according to their own release, we’d all be drinking nothing but water.” (Michael Ferguson, The Mercury, May 18 2015)
“Now Mr Ferguson has seen the light and hypocritically re-announced Labor’s policy, even after he said our measures were nothing more than nanny-statism,” Ms White said.
“He has done nothing more than take the plan that Diabetes Tasmania, the Cancer Council, and the Heart Foundation called for and which Labor adopted and try to call it his own.
“For more than two years now, Mr Ferguson has been fumbling around preventative health with nothing to offer.
“Incredibly, the Liberal’s school canteens proposal will also not be introduced until next year meaning Mr Ferguson will have done nothing in this very important area for the majority of the Hodgman Government’s term in government.
“That poor record stands in stark contrast to Labor which has already released a clear and comprehensive policy addressing preventative health to ensure we have the healthiest population and relieve the future burden on our hospital system.
“In addition to the removal of sugary drinks from school canteens, Labor’s preventative health policy includes proper regulating of electronic cigarettes so they cannot be sold to children, building two new Child and Family Centres, establishing a 12 month Active Kids – Active Communities pilot programand aiming to have a 100 per cent vaccination rate for Tasmanian children.”
News that 40 staff at the Royal Hobart Hospital have been relocated due to asbestos exposure is very concerning indeed.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Michael Ferguson had serious questions to answer.
“Why is the public finding out about something that happened on Wednesday late on a Friday afternoon?,” Ms White said.
“The Health Minister spoke to the media on Wednesday and Thursday specifically about health related concerns of staff at the hospital, why did he neglect to inform the public of the asbestos incident?
“We know too well the dangers of exposure to asbestos so the health department is right to take this incident very seriously.
“There is no such thing as a safe level of exposure to asbestos.
“My thoughts are with the staff who have no doubt had a stressful couple of days at the Royal as well as the construction workers on the site.
“Michael Ferguson must explain why he kept the public in the dark for two days.
“Did he deliberately withhold the information during his press conference on Thursday to avoid bad news?
“Under his leadership the Royal redevelopment has become a disaster zone."
The document handed to government regarding mould at the Royal Hobart Hospital does little to reassure Tasmanians that the demountable building is fit to house patients.
Shadow Minister for Health and Preventative Care, Rebecca White, said it is little wonder the health minister did not make the so-called report public yesterday.
“The four page document that took three months to prepare confirms there are serious and ongoing health risks related to mould exposure at the hospital,” Ms White said.
“It does not refute the fact that workers on site became sick, only that those symptoms could not be exclusively attributed to mould.
“The document confirms that exposure to mould is a risk for people who suffer from asthma and allergies.
“This completely vindicates Labor’s decision to raise the matter in parliament on behalf of workers and the unions who represent them.
“It is clear the building is unfit to house patients but if the Minister had his way this sorry saga would never have been brought to light.
“The WorkSafe document also confirms that remedial work on the temporary building will continue throughout September. That is entirely consistent with our understanding that the building will be more than 10 months overdue - throwing out the timeline for the entire redevelopment.
“Michael Ferguson’s grandstanding over the last two days has demonstrated he’s more interested in petty politics than good outcomes in health.”
Health Minister Michael Ferguson’s last minute backdown on his only preventative health policy late today is proof the Hodgman Government has nothing to offer to safeguard the health of future generations of Tasmanians.
Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said Mr Ferguson had late today attempted to sneak out his backdown on his commitment to raise the legal smoking age to 21 or 25, hoping nobody would notice.
“Mr Ferguson has abandoned any attempt to introduce meaningful measures to help ensure our future generation are healthy,” Ms White said.
“Mr Ferguson is responsible for nothing more than bungle after bungle after bungle. He has thrown our major hospitals into crisis and now has shown Tasmanians he is clueless in regard to taking action on preventative health.
“A commitment to action on preventative health is critical to not only improve health outcomes but in decreasing the burden on our hospitals.
“In contrast, just yesterday Labor announced a dedicated portfolio for preventative health care.”
Labor has also announced a range of policies to improve health outcomes for Tasmanians including increasing vaccination rates in children, removing sugary drinks from school canteens, regulating electronic cigarettes, compulsory social and emotional learning in public schools and many other positive initiatives.
Labor welcomes news that Worksafe Tasmania has ruled out an illness cluster for workers at the Royal Hobart Hospital due to mould infestations.
“It was the Labor Party that raised serious and valid concerns about potential mould-related illnesses after being contacted by workers, and their parents, who fell sick after working in mouldy rooms and buildings at the hospital,” Shadow Health Minister Rebecca White said.
“It is the height of arrogance for Michael Ferguson to be crowing about the WorkSafe report when the overriding issue – the mould itself growing at Tasmania’s largest hospital – is still being dealt with and the Royal Hobart redevelopment misses deadline after deadline.
“If Michael Ferguson had his way these mould infestations would have remained secret.
“Tasmanians are rightly growing sick and tired of Michael Ferguson’s grandstanding and pointscoring while mould takes hold in our hospitals.
“Labor will not apologise for raising genuine concerns about mould infestations at the Royal Hobart Hospital on behalf of Tasmanian construction workers, health professionals and patients.”