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Fluffy factions: The sad side story of the asbestos saga

By Marcus Paul 17 July 2015 59

facebook mr fluffy demolition

One of the saddest stories (and there are many) to come out of the Mr Fluffy fiasco is the emergence of what I’ve termed the ‘Fluffy factions’.

As the ACT Government has wrestled with how to respond, and negotiated the bum deal it got from the Feds, it has become apparent that no matter the solution, it can’t please everyone. This is perfectly understandable.

It’s easy for us in the media to sit behind a microphone or computer. I can extend my sympathy and understanding, but I will never really know what it feels like to discover my family home has been infected by this toxic stuff and that the government wants me out.

It must always be remembered these are family homes. They are not simply plots of land that I suspect the ACT Government (perhaps reluctantly) feels it needs to profit from. Given Canberrans are now in debt to the tune of a billion dollars – mostly thanks to the inaction and frankly ‘uncaring’ response from the Abbott Government – this is also understandable.

I can’t imagine what it must be like for home owners, renters and others who have lived in these homes. It must be anxiety-inducing to know that you spent an extended period of time living in a potentially dangerous environment. The recent publication of the list of Mr Fluffy homes would have heightened these concerns throughout our community.

I also can’t imagine the niggling doubts felt by tradespeople who may well have trampled through these homes over the decades, repairing this and that, possibly without knowing that the the ugly and despicable Mr Fluffy had left his mark.

So much worry, so many memories.

I recently encountered an act of trolling as I was filtering through the social media site set up by victims of Mr Fluffy. It got me thinking, why is it that people with so much common ground often end up on different levels?

The emotion of the Mr Fluffy saga has led to splinter groups of people with different agendas. It’s sad to often see them at each other’s throats, both online and in the media.

I guess it’s just human nature, and sometimes adversity can lead to people lashing out at those they consider targets, often because they have nowhere else to turn. The frustration, anger and resentment I’ve observed in recent times has been palpable.

I just hope that all Mr Fluffy victims find a way to move past the ordeal in their own way, and in their own time. The victims have the vast majority of Canberrans on side. After all, we are all footing the bill.

However, I’d also like to suggest that Mr Fluffy victims be careful when they turn on each other. This ugly side of the Fluffy saga may mean public sympathy diminishes, and no one can afford that.

(Photo via ACT Asbestos Response Taskforce.)

Marcus Paul is the host of Canberra Live 3pm weekdays on 2CC.

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Fluffy factions: The sad side story of the asbestos saga
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creative_canberran 4:28 pm 24 Jul 15

countach said :

JC said :

Why is Mr Fluffy ugly and despicable. He was installing a product that at the time was legal and a very valid and good way of insulating a house. The fact it has since turned out to be such a disaster hardly warrants character assassination of this type against the guy (who has passed away) who ran the business and has no place in any rational discussion or debate about the issue.

Is “Mr Fluffy” the nick-name of a person or the nick-name of a product? I’ve seen it used both ways. The product is despicable for sure.

Has become a nickname for both.

countach 2:40 pm 23 Jul 15

JC said :

Why is Mr Fluffy ugly and despicable. He was installing a product that at the time was legal and a very valid and good way of insulating a house. The fact it has since turned out to be such a disaster hardly warrants character assassination of this type against the guy (who has passed away) who ran the business and has no place in any rational discussion or debate about the issue.

Is “Mr Fluffy” the nick-name of a person or the nick-name of a product? I’ve seen it used both ways. The product is despicable for sure.

vintage123 5:37 pm 22 Jul 15

Zan said :

Brake linings were also made of asbestos sending fibres into the air. I think they were changed in the late 70s. So a lot of car mechanics were also exposed to asbestos.

As were anyone working on motorcycles, aircraft or heavy machinery. Anywhere there were brakes, heat sheilds, exhaust systems, sound proofing there was asbestos. Some old building had it on the internal lining of the ceiling, it looked like pebble paint. Even the old red and blue rattlers (victorian trains), transporting hundreds of thousands of commuters everyday were full of the stuff.

vintage123 5:32 pm 22 Jul 15

creative_canberran said :

sepi said :

I read that Mr Janson had to import the Fluffy asbestos from South Africa via NZ so that he could get it into the country without too much inspection. Asbestos was definitely starting to be a dirty word in the 70s. I don’t think he thought it was dangerous tho – he had his own sons shovelling the stuff into houses by hand.

I think the Fed govt should be sued for disregarding the health department advice to shut Mr Fluffy down in the 60s when he had just started out.

That claim about importing the asbestos via NZ was the recollection of a former employee The Canberra Times published but didn’t bother to verify. There weren’t any restrictions on importing asbestos.

Whether Jansen thought it was a danger is difficult to say. The long term health consequences of asbestos were probably not known to him or many others at the time, and the exact mechanism through which Asbestos causes illness is still not well understood even now.

But he was certainly aware that the material had acute affects, as were health authorities. That’s why he made some effort to supply respiratory protection and why his employees complained about the effect.

Regarding the Federal government’s liability, that boat has sailed. Limitation periods have run their course and the connection between the Commonwealth and any latent effects is too remote to form the basis for legal action.

Your right, Limitation of liability for both the original installation and the subsequent removal have passed.

However there is nothing stopping a class action challenging the ACT buyback scheme. That decision is still well and truly within statute of limitation.

If those affected by the buyback do not think it is fair, then they are more than entitled to challenge the ACT federal governments decision.

creative_canberran 4:54 pm 22 Jul 15

sepi said :

I read that Mr Janson had to import the Fluffy asbestos from South Africa via NZ so that he could get it into the country without too much inspection. Asbestos was definitely starting to be a dirty word in the 70s. I don’t think he thought it was dangerous tho – he had his own sons shovelling the stuff into houses by hand.

I think the Fed govt should be sued for disregarding the health department advice to shut Mr Fluffy down in the 60s when he had just started out.

That claim about importing the asbestos via NZ was the recollection of a former employee The Canberra Times published but didn’t bother to verify. There weren’t any restrictions on importing asbestos.

Whether Jansen thought it was a danger is difficult to say. The long term health consequences of asbestos were probably not known to him or many others at the time, and the exact mechanism through which Asbestos causes illness is still not well understood even now.

But he was certainly aware that the material had acute affects, as were health authorities. That’s why he made some effort to supply respiratory protection and why his employees complained about the effect.

Regarding the Federal government’s liability, that boat has sailed. Limitation periods have run their course and the connection between the Commonwealth and any latent effects is too remote to form the basis for legal action.

sepi 3:08 pm 22 Jul 15

I read that Mr Janson had to import the Fluffy asbestos from South Africa via NZ so that he could get it into the country without too much inspection. Asbestos was definitely starting to be a dirty word in the 70s. I don’t think he thought it was dangerous tho – he had his own sons shovelling the stuff into houses by hand.

I think the Fed govt should be sued for disregarding the health department advice to shut Mr Fluffy down in the 60s when he had just started out.

tim_c 2:03 pm 22 Jul 15

“It must be anxiety-inducing to know that you spent an extended period of time living in a potentially dangerous environment”

I don’t know – I don’t see too many people getting too anxious about having to walk through clouds of carcinogenic cigarette smoke every time they venture outdoors in Civic, or past any building site.

vintage123 1:59 pm 22 Jul 15

My advice, be very cautious if you decide to stay on your land, as the rebuilding costs will be just shy of the stratosphere. It would not surprise me to see the headline “canberra builders take advantage of poor fluffy block owners”. Honestly, with the cost to build twice that of existing structures, its going to end one of two ways.

1. A new home halve the size of existing, costing all of the subsidy
2. A new version of what you already have, or had, for twice the subsidy.

It would not surprise me if the average rebuild cost (minus land cost) for a 3/1/1 is 700k plus.

Tezza7420 11:44 am 22 Jul 15

chewy14 – Inherently, homeowners who intend to stay in their homes for a period of time overcapitalise simply because they want a nice home to live in. Modifications are made with a view to comfort or to be used and enjoyed over a period of time. Conversely, people planning on selling their home spend money on things that are more likely to get the best return on their asset. I have heard many stories of people with extensions and renovations that have not added value when the house was valued for the buyback scheme.

Similarly, a large number of homeowners have lost contents that they were not compensated for. Anything stored in the roof or under the house had to be abandoned. Clothing and soft furnishings etc in areas of contamination inside a house also had to be abandoned. In some severly contaminated houses people lost all of their contents – leaving with just the cllothes on their back.

The emergency assistance grants given by the Government typically don’t replace a house full of clothes let alone other items that have been lost. For those who had to evacuate their houses, most of that assistance was swallowed up by rent. And I understand that the grant is supposed to cover moving costs too!

I understand that legal fees for selling under the buyback are typically more than the $1,000 as well and I don’t think homeowners are covered for legal fees when buying a new house. Inherently too, real estate fees for the new house are implicitly built into the price of the new house so it could be argued that the purchasers have contributed to that too. Some owners, who have had enough of Canberra or can no longer afford to buy in Canberra have even moved over the border in which case they don’t receive any relief from stamp duty.

As for the valuations, these are as at 28 October last year. The longer people take to sell their house the more the real value of their property is diminishing. As well, some people have complained about the valuations they have received but it is not really possible for them to test the market to see if they can get a better price.

Perhaps there are a few property investors who didn’t spend much on their homes and didn’t lose any contents who may have come out Ok but I’m sure that their tenants are not so well off. However, those investors might have lost rent over the last year while their houses were unlettable and, if they buy a replacement investment property, possibly have costs associated with that purchase. I don’t know whether any capital gains events would be triggered by the buback though.

vintage123 – My understanding is that NSW homeowners will have an option to sell their house to the Government and keep their cleared block. ACT homeowners have to relinquish their block, wait for up to five years for the revised valuation of their block if they want to buy it back and potentially at a premium if their block has been rezoned for dual or multi occupancy.

Please don’t misunderstand me though. I’m not suggesting that either ACT or NSW Government hand out any more money to these people – although I do think the Feds should have done more. I’m just asking that some people posting here show some compassion for these homeowners. Likening this problem to “chemicals” in a garden for example, belittles what these people are going through. They have been forced from their homes, will forever worry about the health of their children and continually ruminate over any possession or memorabilia that had a connection with their former home (even their cars) as to whether it might be contaminated.

vintage123 6:05 pm 21 Jul 15

Tezza7420 said :

Dr_Mongrel said :

rubaiyat said :

creative_canberran said :

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

It was only his business. Why should he keep abreast of his own industry?

I think there will always be people who believe their head in the sand is the only position to take in life.

The anger that came out was because a lot of people wanted to keep their heads in the sand. Human nature, I guess.

Tezza7420 said :

People’s anger towards Brianna Heseltine is understandable but misguided. Her standing up for Fluffy homeowners took a lot of guts, raised awareness as to their plight and got the ball rolling in finding a solution. I suspect the problem was that the issue became too big for Brianna’s ability, expectations were not managed and homeowners didn’t feel that they were being heard. (Brianna’s joining the ALP became an unfortunate and untimely distraction too).

Tezza, it would be very irresponsible for the government to take out a bigger loan on this one. I’d start questioning the people who keep the books if they did more than what was offered.

As for Ms Heseltine’s handling of it, after getting the ACT to roll out a cool billion she took it to NSW and got them on board. I admire that even if your faction doesn’t.

I’m not suggesting that the ACT Government should pay or borrow more than they have. Compared to what might have been, on average, this outcome is pretty good. I do consider though that the ACT Government has been extremely negligent over the years and I am surprised that there aren’t grounds for more substantial costs if they ended up in court. As well, while NSW homeowners have had a very bad deal over the last couple of decades their compensation appears now to be better than the ACT’s.

My concern here is that many posters on RiotAct seem to think that Fluffy owners have profited as a result of the buyback scheme. Yes homeowners could have been worse off than they are (assuming that they hadn’t then banded together and succeeded in legal action) but all of them are substantially out of pocket compared to where they stood before this blew up last year. This of course ignores all of the short and long term psychological and health aspects that homeowners have to live through.

As for Brianna, I presume you have misread my comments. I am very impressed by what Brianna achieved – especially initially. It’s just that I think the job got too big and was beyond her. I’m not part of any “faction” as you suggested. I’m just trying to see all sides of this situation and I’m suggesting that everyone try to understand the stress that all of these people have been under.

Hold on a second. How have NSW affected people recently been given better compensation than those in the ACT. If you are referring to the offer to buy their land, trust me that is NOT a good deal. The cost to rebuild will financially ruin them. Just like the canberra bushfires.

chewy14 5:08 pm 21 Jul 15

Tezza7420 said :

I’m not suggesting that the ACT Government should pay or borrow more than they have. Compared to what might have been, on average, this outcome is pretty good. I do consider though that the ACT Government has been extremely negligent over the years and I am surprised that there aren’t grounds for more substantial costs if they ended up in court. As well, while NSW homeowners have had a very bad deal over the last couple of decades their compensation appears now to be better than the ACT’s.

My concern here is that many posters on RiotAct seem to think that Fluffy owners have profited as a result of the buyback scheme. Yes homeowners could have been worse off than they are (assuming that they hadn’t then banded together and succeeded in legal action) but all of them are substantially out of pocket compared to where they stood before this blew up last year. This of course ignores all of the short and long term psychological and health aspects that homeowners have to live through.

As for Brianna, I presume you have misread my comments. I am very impressed by what Brianna achieved – especially initially. It’s just that I think the job got too big and was beyond her. I’m not part of any “faction” as you suggested. I’m just trying to see all sides of this situation and I’m suggesting that everyone try to understand the stress that all of these people have been under.

On what basis are you saying that fluffy owners are significantly out of pocket?

I know a number of fluffy families and each one of them was offered what would be considered a good sale price by the government. Coupled with the other allowances and concessions they’ve been offered, they definitely aren’t behind financially. I’m sure some might be behind due to circumstance but definitely not all.

The emotional stress can’t be denied and would be the hardest part of this.

Tezza7420 2:09 pm 21 Jul 15

Dr_Mongrel said :

rubaiyat said :

creative_canberran said :

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

It was only his business. Why should he keep abreast of his own industry?

I think there will always be people who believe their head in the sand is the only position to take in life.

The anger that came out was because a lot of people wanted to keep their heads in the sand. Human nature, I guess.

Tezza7420 said :

People’s anger towards Brianna Heseltine is understandable but misguided. Her standing up for Fluffy homeowners took a lot of guts, raised awareness as to their plight and got the ball rolling in finding a solution. I suspect the problem was that the issue became too big for Brianna’s ability, expectations were not managed and homeowners didn’t feel that they were being heard. (Brianna’s joining the ALP became an unfortunate and untimely distraction too).

Tezza, it would be very irresponsible for the government to take out a bigger loan on this one. I’d start questioning the people who keep the books if they did more than what was offered.

As for Ms Heseltine’s handling of it, after getting the ACT to roll out a cool billion she took it to NSW and got them on board. I admire that even if your faction doesn’t.

I’m not suggesting that the ACT Government should pay or borrow more than they have. Compared to what might have been, on average, this outcome is pretty good. I do consider though that the ACT Government has been extremely negligent over the years and I am surprised that there aren’t grounds for more substantial costs if they ended up in court. As well, while NSW homeowners have had a very bad deal over the last couple of decades their compensation appears now to be better than the ACT’s.

My concern here is that many posters on RiotAct seem to think that Fluffy owners have profited as a result of the buyback scheme. Yes homeowners could have been worse off than they are (assuming that they hadn’t then banded together and succeeded in legal action) but all of them are substantially out of pocket compared to where they stood before this blew up last year. This of course ignores all of the short and long term psychological and health aspects that homeowners have to live through.

As for Brianna, I presume you have misread my comments. I am very impressed by what Brianna achieved – especially initially. It’s just that I think the job got too big and was beyond her. I’m not part of any “faction” as you suggested. I’m just trying to see all sides of this situation and I’m suggesting that everyone try to understand the stress that all of these people have been under.

chewy14 8:02 am 21 Jul 15

rubaiyat said :

What a world we live in where milk straight from a cow’s udder is considered more deadly and requiring urgent government regulations and bans, than the thousands of hydrocarbons we pour into the air, water, soil we grow things in, and our bodies.

Fracking, coal mining and dumping of waste is OK, in fact the Government claims to have its hands tied, but unpasteurised cheese needs to be stamped out!

I’d be interested in hearing the economy and societal wide benefits that we’re missing out on from not being able to get mass produced unpasteurized products?

creative_canberran 1:06 am 21 Jul 15

Dr_Mongrel said :

Tezza, it would be very irresponsible for the government to take out a bigger loan on this one. I’d start questioning the people who keep the books if they did more than what was offered.

As for Ms Heseltine’s handling of it, after getting the ACT to roll out a cool billion she took it to NSW and got them on board. I admire that even if your faction doesn’t.

Yep, NSW is the big win even if at this stage it looks like the smaller job in terms of houses. It’s where the greatest risk is. People in and out of State Parliament have been trying over three decades to get something done, unsuccessfully. Media wasn’t interested, those who could actually sign off on expenditure weren’t interested and local councils who were immediately responsible frankly were involved in covering it up. In less than 2 years, NSW does now have a solution, it probably won’t get all the homes but will get most of them.

rubaiyat 6:35 pm 20 Jul 15

What a world we live in where milk straight from a cow’s udder is considered more deadly and requiring urgent government regulations and bans, than the thousands of hydrocarbons we pour into the air, water, soil we grow things in, and our bodies.

Fracking, coal mining and dumping of waste is OK, in fact the Government claims to have its hands tied, but unpasteurised cheese needs to be stamped out!

Dr_Mongrel 6:18 pm 20 Jul 15

rubaiyat said :

creative_canberran said :

Was Jansen evil? No. But he was ignorant and exploitative, and therefore culpable.

It was only his business. Why should he keep abreast of his own industry?

I think there will always be people who believe their head in the sand is the only position to take in life.

The anger that came out was because a lot of people wanted to keep their heads in the sand. Human nature, I guess.

Tezza7420 said :

People’s anger towards Brianna Heseltine is understandable but misguided. Her standing up for Fluffy homeowners took a lot of guts, raised awareness as to their plight and got the ball rolling in finding a solution. I suspect the problem was that the issue became too big for Brianna’s ability, expectations were not managed and homeowners didn’t feel that they were being heard. (Brianna’s joining the ALP became an unfortunate and untimely distraction too).

Tezza, it would be very irresponsible for the government to take out a bigger loan on this one. I’d start questioning the people who keep the books if they did more than what was offered.

As for Ms Heseltine’s handling of it, after getting the ACT to roll out a cool billion she took it to NSW and got them on board. I admire that even if your faction doesn’t.

rubaiyat 5:37 pm 20 Jul 15

vintage123 said :

The only thing i have learnt from this whole schumozle is to keep my weed poison reciepts.

Maybe in twenty years time (considering information was released last week on the carcinagenics of such poison) the ACT Government or the Weed Companys will provide the average of three quotes value and perks such as free stamp duty and removals for the thirty investment properties which I have that have been exposed to the weed killer in the current “safe to use” Australian health and safety categorisation.

oh and not to buy the cheap second hand trees, pebbles, retaining wall pieces if they come up on the classifieds as an urgent sale.

Toluene is a well known carcinogen and principle solvent in quick drying solutions, leading to a high mortality rate amongst Sign Writers (back when they could actual paint the lettering).

All the hydrocarbon solvents are to a greater or lesser degree equally culpable. An awful lot of petrol, kerosene and Avgas are going directly into the atmosphere or as unburnt byproducts. We are all breathing those, but apparently we need to, just as we needed to toss known carcinogens and lung scarifying materials into roof cavities because we needed to face all our houses away from the sun and use inappropriate walling, roofing and windows for our climate.

The thing we have learnt from all this is: Anyone who knows better is an idiot, make them shut up and keep on with business as usual. Then when the proverbial does it the fan claim nobody knew and it is all an unfortunate accident.

Excuse me. I know there must be a bottom to this hole we are digging, if we only dig deeper we are bound to find it!

jewels 5:19 pm 20 Jul 15

JC said :

jewels said :

They let everyone move back into there homes. WHEN, if they had of done a buy and sell back then, a lot of current and future residents would not have been exposed for so long, the residents would have been younger and better placed to accept the change and be able to cope better financially….than it happening in 2015 and being 80 years of age!!!!!

Unless your family were doing renovations you would not have been exposed. The core issue that has lead to the buy back is the future health risk (especially seeing as many of those house would now be prime candidates for renovation).”

And yes, there were renovations,after the alleged clean up, including a wall removal, and yes we also stored stuff up in the ceiling and under the house.

vintage123 3:20 pm 20 Jul 15

The only thing i have learnt from this whole schumozle is to keep my weed poison reciepts.

Maybe in twenty years time (considering information was released last week on the carcinagenics of such poison) the ACT Government or the Weed Companys will provide the average of three quotes value and perks such as free stamp duty and removals for the thirty investment properties which I have that have been exposed to the weed killer in the current “safe to use” Australian health and safety categorisation.

oh and not to buy the cheap second hand trees, pebbles, retaining wall pieces if they come up on the classifieds as an urgent sale.

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