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Mr Fluffy – so much for Team Australia

By Steven Bailey - 4 November 2014 18

Nics-Family-2

Last week I was contacted by a Mr Fluffy homeowner Nicole McNamara. This is her story.

14 years ago, Nicole and her husband bought their dream property in Farrer. Her husband is a tradesman, and they are a single income family with three young children. Last year, the McNamaras paid off their home loan and after being approved for renovations by the ACT Government they remortgaged their home to pay for $200,000 worth of renovations. In Nicole’s words, ‘we wanted to stay here, we wanted a life here, this is where our life is’.

Nicole and her husband couldn’t wait to make their dream home a reality. They purchased materials for the new water, gas and power infrastructure to begin construction. But after learning that their house was contaminated with life-threatening loose asbestos, the family was forced to vacate the house. As the McNamaras could not afford to find alternative accommodation, they moved into their backyard shed which left them ineligible for any ACT Government assistance for relocation. Additionally, the family of five have not qualified for any other financial assistance because they have been unable to afford to purchase the clothes and furniture to replace what they have been forced to leave behind and have therefor been unable to produce receipts for reimbursement.

Footings have been poured, building materials lay dormant, and a family have been robbed of the security of the Australian dream.

Last week’s announcement of the $1 billion buyback and demolition scheme did not come as a comfort to the McNamaras. Instead of quelling anxieties, it galvanized the loss and uncertainty already suffered. Under the ACT’s scheme the McNamaras will almost certainly have their property subdivided before it is offered back to them. As their renovations are incomplete and external, the market price of their home will not equate to their total investment. And as a result, after they buy back the land, if they so choose, they will be unable to afford to rebuild.

Given that the family commenced renovations at the determination of the ACT Government’s approval, the McNamaras would like to know why the government assumes no responsibility for the investment the family undertook. Questions such as these are being asked by hundreds of families across the ACT, and as the ACT Government scrambles to answer them, it will soon be time to consider the Mr Fluffy crisis in a new light.

The first rule of negotiating is to ask for more than you expect to receive. The ACT received nothing from the Commonwealth except a debt. The second rule is to act in goodwill when negotiating on behalf others. If goodwill fails, which it has, it is only natural for honest and moral assessments to ensue.

This situation is intensely political.

The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter. In contravention of the memorandum, and as a condition of the $1 billion loan, the Federal Government will also require the ACT to indemnify it for any responsibility for the matter in the future. Yet, in its impertinent, immoral and un-Australian disregard for the citizens of the ACT, the Commonwealth has already presumed a position of indemnity.

Intelligent Australians are rightfully asking themselves what ‘Team Australia’ means. If you believe in the civil liberty of retaining the property you own, or live in the ACT, it obviously means nothing.

The silence of the Canberra Liberals on the federal response is indicative of the gutless impotence that characterises the spirit in which they engage in the contest of ideas. They should be fighting the feds for the good of the people they so wish to govern. The ACT Government should not take this lying down either. Even if politicians feel powerless to change a situation, a citizenry have the right to expect that their politicians at least stand up for what they believe in.

It was Menzies who championed the notion that a nation is made free by the liberty to invest in private tenure. Yet it is this very liberty that is being replaced by an ideology which says, ‘if you’ve got a problem, you’re on your own’. Go Team Australia; go!

What’s Your opinion?


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18 Responses to
Mr Fluffy – so much for Team Australia
Steven Bailey 1:22 pm 05 Nov 14

creative_canberran said :

Steven, take a deep breath and read what you’ve written. You’re wrong again.

“The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter. In contravention of the memorandum, and as a condition of the $1 billion loan, the Federal Government will also require the ACT to indemnify it for any responsibility for the matter in the future.”

The MoU establishes as you say the funding share for the removal.

Specifically, the MoU sets out the funding formula at 2.1 for the “Program” which is defined at 1.1 as the identification, sealing and removal of loose asbestos fluff insulation.

The MoU states at 6.1 additionally that the Territory, being responsible for implementing the program, is to seal all affected properties and remove all visible and accessible loose asbestos fluff insulation.

The scope of the MoU is limited to the sealing of house interiors and the removal of visible and accessible asbestos insulation.

Further, at 11.1 and 11.2, it specifically states that any variations to this level of service will be subject to further negotiation between the Commonwealth and the Territory, including if either party requires that the formula for funding be changed.

Therefore the MoU does not extend to the purchase and demolition of homes, nor even to a further more extensive cleaning of homes beyond that standard of visible and accessible, and specifically requires the parties to negotiate for future changes.

Now let me say firmly that I believe the Commonwealth has a moral responsibility to pay a share of the buyback and demolition program.

However as a dispassionate analyst of this issue, I have long known that the ACT Government was bluffing in trying to use this MoU as a bargaining chip. Even the way Katy Gallagher released it was very transparent – more bark than bite. The MoU is clear in its scope and the Commonwealth is not in breach of it because it is limited in its scope.

I wouldn’t bother with the pedantic getting in the way of the moral. On that, we can both agree.

pajs 10:11 am 05 Nov 14

The 1991 MoU can be found at http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/linkableblob/5656130/data/mou—act-and-commonwealth-agreement-data.pdf

It could be argued the MoU does not exclude removal via demolition. The language at 6.3 in the MoU clearly indicates further costs from subsequent assessment and removal were foreseen, including from homes where removal had already taken place.

creative_canberran 2:19 am 05 Nov 14

Steven, take a deep breath and read what you’ve written. You’re wrong again.

“The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter. In contravention of the memorandum, and as a condition of the $1 billion loan, the Federal Government will also require the ACT to indemnify it for any responsibility for the matter in the future.”

The MoU establishes as you say the funding share for the removal.

Specifically, the MoU sets out the funding formula at 2.1 for the “Program” which is defined at 1.1 as the identification, sealing and removal of loose asbestos fluff insulation.

The MoU states at 6.1 additionally that the Territory, being responsible for implementing the program, is to seal all affected properties and remove all visible and accessible loose asbestos fluff insulation.

The scope of the MoU is limited to the sealing of house interiors and the removal of visible and accessible asbestos insulation.

Further, at 11.1 and 11.2, it specifically states that any variations to this level of service will be subject to further negotiation between the Commonwealth and the Territory, including if either party requires that the formula for funding be changed.

Therefore the MoU does not extend to the purchase and demolition of homes, nor even to a further more extensive cleaning of homes beyond that standard of visible and accessible, and specifically requires the parties to negotiate for future changes.

Now let me say firmly that I believe the Commonwealth has a moral responsibility to pay a share of the buyback and demolition program.

However as a dispassionate analyst of this issue, I have long known that the ACT Government was bluffing in trying to use this MoU as a bargaining chip. Even the way Katy Gallagher released it was very transparent – more bark than bite. The MoU is clear in its scope and the Commonwealth is not in breach of it because it is limited in its scope.

dungfungus 8:10 pm 04 Nov 14

watto23 said :

Well the only course of action the ACT does have is the reasonably marginal second senate seat. Zed was lucky to win it last time and that was at a time, votes were swinging away from labor and the greens nationally. I don’t think its entirely unreasonable to think that the Libs could lose that seat.

Lose it to whom? Jon Stanhope?

rommeldog56 7:58 pm 04 Nov 14

watto23 said :

Well the only course of action the ACT does have is the reasonably marginal second senate seat. Zed was lucky to win it last time and that was at a time, votes were swinging away from labor and the greens nationally. I don’t think its entirely unreasonable to think that the Libs could lose that seat.

You may be right. However, given that the current ACT Chief Minister has admitted that she was told about the threat via reports to her almost 10 years ago (as a Minister for something or other), but still did nothing constructive to remediate the situation (which she has admitted in press reports earlier this year !), would not it be expected that she would also lose her seat in the ACT Legislative Assembly in the 2016 eelections ?

There is little doubt that lack of action at least 9 years ago by the ACT Gov’t helped the Fed’s to formualte their absurd and insulting offer. Is it any wonder that the ACT Gov’t now just wants to get on with it – they must surely be co culpable – the current Chief Minister in particular IMHO.

So, I reckon the “emotions” on display at the Legislative Assembly the other day about the Fed’s offer, was just a tad disengenuous.

agrade50 6:30 pm 04 Nov 14

A bad situation all round, my wife and I are in a similar situation,bought our home 25 years ago have spent all that time making our home that special place for our kids and grand kids to come together for all those special and not so special times. If we were 20 years younger we could possibly do it all again, but not now. We are really pleased for those that can take the deal and move on – from where we stand a most unfair suggestion. We did not create this situation nor in our wildest dream did we see this situation for our retirement , there has to be a better solution and negotiation has to fair

Goodwood 4:28 pm 04 Nov 14

From what I have read and been told, the feds were advised in 1968 that the Mr Fluffy guy was dangerous, and did nothing. The also reneged on their agreement to help fund any further cleanup. The ACT government knew of affected houses and still approved renovations (one hand of government not talking to another perhaps). Common sense says they are both liable, but the law says not. So the little person is the one to bear the burden of government neglect and incompetence. Everyone seems to know someone with an asbestos house. I know three families, two of middle age and one elderly. It is distressing to see their tears and bewilderment about how their lives have been turned upside down,

Mysteryman 4:15 pm 04 Nov 14

Bosworth said :

“The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter.”

Is the Commonwealth Government the type of organisation that keeps its promises?

They aren’t removing any asbestos. They are demolishing the homes. That would means the memorandum is irrelevant. Who made the call to demolish the homes? Was it the Commonwealth or the ACT?

pajs 2:26 pm 04 Nov 14

watto23 said :

Well the only course of action the ACT does have is the reasonably marginal second senate seat. Zed was lucky to win it last time and that was at a time, votes were swinging away from labor and the greens nationally. I don’t think its entirely unreasonable to think that the Libs could lose that seat.

Just had this image of Zed, roused from his deep sleep, energetically shirtfronting Eric Abetz in a fit of committed representation…

watto23 12:40 pm 04 Nov 14

Well the only course of action the ACT does have is the reasonably marginal second senate seat. Zed was lucky to win it last time and that was at a time, votes were swinging away from labor and the greens nationally. I don’t think its entirely unreasonable to think that the Libs could lose that seat.

Bosworth 11:37 am 04 Nov 14

“The Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding in 1991 which stated that it would shoulder two-thirds of the cost of the removal of any asbestos thereafter.”

Is the Commonwealth Government the type of organisation that keeps its promises?

Mello 10:42 am 04 Nov 14

Read the bit about remortgaging for 200K.

HenryBaits 10:30 am 04 Nov 14

arescarti42 said :

The story of this family as it’s been presented in this article doesn’t stack up.

How does a family with their house paid off, and a full time income not have money to buy clothes and furniture? Ditto to affording alternative accommodation to their shed.

What a silly comment. They’ve worked hard for years to pay off their mortgage and then they remortgaged their house to $200,000. They have three kids and one income. You have no idea of the other financial pressure that the family is experiencing. Think before you comment.

arescarti42 9:46 am 04 Nov 14

The story of this family as it’s been presented in this article doesn’t stack up.

How does a family with their house paid off, and a full time income not have money to buy clothes and furniture? Ditto to affording alternative accommodation to their shed.

Pragmatix 9:45 am 04 Nov 14

Steven is right. There are no votes in helping the people of the ACT.

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