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Study postgraduate law: the ANU Juris Doctor

Mr Fluffy Crisis – Canberra Waits

By Steven Bailey - 2 October 2014 30

asbestos

Between 1968 and 1979, private ACT contractor Mr Fluffy insulated people’s homes by pumping loose asbestos fibres into the roof cavities of houses in Canberra. In 1989, the Federal Government acknowledged the devastating health risks of loose asbestos and conducted an investigation of homes in the ACT constructed before 1980. It was discovered that 1.5 per cent of ACT homes built before 1980 contained loose asbestos fibre insulation.

As the ACT Government only came into existence in 1989, the disaster was the responsibility of the Federal Government – and still is. As such, the Federal Government funded a 100 million-dollar Loose Asbestos Insulation Removal Program. Obviously, it was not successful. This year, it has come to light that, so far, 1049 homes still contain this deadly material.

Since this year’s discovery, the ACT Government has established a dedicated taskforce and disbursed in excess of 1.1 million dollars in emergency cash relief to residents who have been adversely affected. With bipartisan support, the ACT Government has moved swiftly, concluding that a mass buy-back and demolition scheme would be the most desirable outcome. Last week Senator Eric Abetz listened to the stories of people affected by the crisis, and an announcement on the Commonwealth’s contribution is imminent within days or weeks.

In my opinion, there have been a few unhelpful hiccups of late. The ACT Government has mailed out stickers that are to be affixed by the homeowner to meter boxes and switch boards of the affected properties. The point of the stickers is to warn tradespeople in the future that they may be working on a property that contains loose asbestos fibres. The penalty for not displaying the stickers before the beginning of next year is $4,500. Instead of potentially frightening already traumatised residents, surely the ACT Government could just take it upon themselves to affix the stickers – and without the threat of penalty.

Additionally, founder of the Fluffy Owner’s and Residents’ Action Group Brianna Heseltine has this week defended her decision to conceal that she has recently joined the ALP and has political ambitions. What is clear from the fiasco is that the major parties have attempted to recruit the community advocate for the 2016 election in the light of her rising public profile. Heseltine may take heed of that timeless Labor rallying cry for the feminist movement which was ‘the personal is political’, and you can’t hide one from the other.

Regardless of those hiccups, what is most important to all concerned is that those who are affected by this crisis are cared for by a reasonable response from the Federal Government. It seems that Canberra waits together in silent solidarity, hoping for the best with bated breath… and whispering.

What’s Your opinion?


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30 Responses to
Mr Fluffy Crisis – Canberra Waits
1
Pragmatix 9:06 pm
02 Oct 14
#

teven, is that a Shakespeare quote at the end? You just can’t help yourself. Nice to have some clear statistics on the whole thing though. Considering what our Government thinks of Canberra, I think we might just be in the calm before the storm. We can only hope but probably in vain.

2
dungfungus 9:43 am
03 Oct 14
#

The Mr Fluffy issue appears to be the Labor minority government’s “get out of gaol” card in regard to the totally unviable light rail project which, if it proceeds, will cost the them the next election.
Andrew Barr has already shelved the equally unviable new lakeside convention centre citing that the financial liability of the Mr Fluffy clean up ranks higher on the agenda and it is a small step now to go the whole hog and “defer” the light rail because “people are more important than trams” or some motherhood statement like that.
I really can’t see how the people of the ACT are financially liable for the misfortunes of the people that have Mr Fluffy homes. It comes under the heading “bad luck”.
I have a friend who bought a home on a slope and the owner of the house on the lower side excavated over 2 metres deep only half a metre from the fence line to construct a retaining wall.
The house with the retaining wall was sold shortly after and my friend’s house started to subside on the lower side. An engineer reported that the cause was the illegal excavation next door but because it wasn’t “picked up” during mandatory inspections and files have since been “lost” my friend has no financial recourse against anyone. “Bad luck” for him also.

3
HenryBG 11:24 am
03 Oct 14
#

dungfungus said :

I really can’t see how the people of the ACT are financially liable for the misfortunes of the people that have Mr Fluffy homes. It comes under the heading “bad luck”.

Agreed.
And seeing as the chief component of these “misfortunes” consists of self-inflicted hysteria, I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

4
thatsnotme 11:54 am
03 Oct 14
#

HenryBG said :

Agreed.
And seeing as the chief component of these “misfortunes” consists of self-inflicted hysteria, I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

Are you saying that you think concern about loose fill asbestos insulation is irrational?? Really?

I guess on the plus side, you’d be in a position to take advantage of the hysteria and pick up a new home for a bargain price.

5
Steven Bailey 12:15 pm
03 Oct 14
#

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

6
dungfungus 1:07 pm
03 Oct 14
#

Steven Bailey said :

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

A mass buyback and demolition will end up with no buyers for the “tainted” sites so the government, unable to recover any money, will transfer the leases to ACT Housing for construction of public housing.
This will excite the conservative neighbours as some of the properties are in suburbs currently devoid of the public housing blight.

7
chewy14 1:40 pm
03 Oct 14
#

dungfungus said :

Steven Bailey said :

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

A mass buyback and demolition will end up with no buyers for the “tainted” sites so the government, unable to recover any money, will transfer the leases to ACT Housing for construction of public housing.
This will excite the conservative neighbours as some of the properties are in suburbs currently devoid of the public housing blight.

No buyers?

Why not? If the building is demolished and the site properly remediated then what’s the issue? I’d happily live there.

8
Antagonist 1:47 pm
03 Oct 14
#

HenryBG said :

… I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

^^^ This bit here for me.

9
dungfungus 2:09 pm
03 Oct 14
#

chewy14 said :

dungfungus said :

Steven Bailey said :

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

A mass buyback and demolition will end up with no buyers for the “tainted” sites so the government, unable to recover any money, will transfer the leases to ACT Housing for construction of public housing.
This will excite the conservative neighbours as some of the properties are in suburbs currently devoid of the public housing blight.

No buyers?

Why not? If the building is demolished and the site properly remediated then what’s the issue? I’d happily live there.

It only takes one tiny fibre………
The houses were supposed to deemed “asbestos free” when they were “cleaned” 20 years ago and look what happened.

10
pajs 2:41 pm
03 Oct 14
#

Antagonist said :

HenryBG said :

… I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

^^^ This bit here for me.

What a silly and insensitive thing to say. In at least some of these buildings, loose fibres have been found in wardrobes, cots and clothes. Put yourself in the shoes of parents getting that news. Not an irrational response to leave and not unreasonable to want the problem fixed. This is a pretty clear example of regulatory failure:
– government was told of the risks associated with loose fill asbestos, but allowed it to be used
– government later got advice that there were risks a removal rather than demolition option would not get rid of all the fibres, but decided to go with the cheaper removal option
– still later, government finds out that those risks have come to pass.

The Cth is the responsible government here, but good to see the ACT Government doing more than buck-passing.

11
chewy14 4:10 pm
03 Oct 14
#

dungfungus said :

chewy14 said :

dungfungus said :

Steven Bailey said :

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

A mass buyback and demolition will end up with no buyers for the “tainted” sites so the government, unable to recover any money, will transfer the leases to ACT Housing for construction of public housing.
This will excite the conservative neighbours as some of the properties are in suburbs currently devoid of the public housing blight.

No buyers?

Why not? If the building is demolished and the site properly remediated then what’s the issue? I’d happily live there.

It only takes one tiny fibre………
The houses were supposed to deemed “asbestos free” when they were “cleaned” 20 years ago and look what happened.

It only takes one lightning strike or shark to kill you also. It’s a risk, but a tiny one.

With regards to the previous clean up, they failed to do the job properly, leaving fibres under floors and at the bottoms of wall cavities. A demolition job would be much easier and much more likely to remove all of the problem. As I said, I would be happy to buy one of these blocks of land after demolition and remediation.

12
watto23 4:20 pm
03 Oct 14
#

dungfungus said :

chewy14 said :

dungfungus said :

Steven Bailey said :

I take your points. Perhaps a complete ‘mass buy-back and demolition scheme’ would be excessive, but a balance between ‘you’re on your own’ and social compassion should be met. We also have to take into consideration the dividends for the tax payer that could be achieved once the land was developed and resold – but that depends on how the scheme is constructed. I maintain that if it was a Commonwealth issue 25 years ago and the issue wasn’t resolved properly, it should remain a Commonwealth issue.

A mass buyback and demolition will end up with no buyers for the “tainted” sites so the government, unable to recover any money, will transfer the leases to ACT Housing for construction of public housing.
This will excite the conservative neighbours as some of the properties are in suburbs currently devoid of the public housing blight.

No buyers?

Why not? If the building is demolished and the site properly remediated then what’s the issue? I’d happily live there.

It only takes one tiny fibre………
The houses were supposed to deemed “asbestos free” when they were “cleaned” 20 years ago and look what happened.

Which is why demolishing or leaving as is are the only two viable options. Leaving as is means that the people can keep living there for as long as they want without much risk at all. It only takes one fibre, but majority of cases involving asbestos, are for people with a far greater exposure to asbestos, like working with it. As far as I know, there have been no recorded cases from Mr Fluffy homes since they did a crap clean up job. But this really is a federal govt issue. They should be paying to remediate these houses as they were built, insulated and supposedly cleaned while ACT was governed by the Federal govt. It extends into NSW as well.

13
Antagonist 5:26 pm
03 Oct 14
#

pajs said :

Antagonist said :

HenryBG said :

… I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

^^^ This bit here for me.

What a silly and insensitive thing to say. In at least some of these buildings, loose fibres have been found in wardrobes, cots and clothes. Put yourself in the shoes of parents getting that news. Not an irrational response to leave and not unreasonable to want the problem fixed. This is a pretty clear example of regulatory failure:
– government was told of the risks associated with loose fill asbestos, but allowed it to be used
– government later got advice that there were risks a removal rather than demolition option would not get rid of all the fibres, but decided to go with the cheaper removal option
– still later, government finds out that those risks have come to pass.

The Cth is the responsible government here, but good to see the ACT Government doing more than buck-passing.

It is hardly insensitive at all. A break even situation to cover *genuine* financial loss is fine with me, but to provide them with financial gain (ie. a windfall) at ACT taxpayer expense is wrong.

14
HiddenDragon 6:18 pm
03 Oct 14
#

I hope this can be handled on a truly bipartisan basis, as I don’t think any good purpose will be served by politicisation (particularly of the emotional kind). I also hope (forlornly, I suspect) that whatever decision we get from the federal government, people don’t kid themselves that it would have been more helpful and generous if there was a federal Labor government.

Finally, and a little gratuitously, gold star to Steven for “bated breath” (with “baited” being all too common in the blogosphere).

15
Tezza7420 6:49 pm
03 Oct 14
#

HenryBG said :

dungfungus said :

I really can’t see how the people of the ACT are financially liable for the misfortunes of the people that have Mr Fluffy homes. It comes under the heading “bad luck”.

Agreed.
And seeing as the chief component of these “misfortunes” consists of self-inflicted hysteria, I am very much against the ACT Ratepayer being further abused to provide these irrational people with financial windfalls.

Why “self inflicted”? These people were all advised to get asbestos inspections. Many were told their houses need remediation. Some were told to get out of their houses immediately.

And buying back the properties would hardly be a windfall – for the homeowner at least. Many don’t want to leave their homes but likely will have no choice and many won’t be able to afford to buy back into their current suburbs.

If it wasn’t such a terrible punishment, I would wish that it was you that had lost your home and all of your contents or, to put it in perspective for you, your whole life savings perhaps. You can’t get insurance for any of your loss and even after you have found somewhere to live and replaced some of your contents, you are left watching your children wondering, statistically, which one of them might die from an asbestos related disease in the future.

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