24 October 2023

Push for board of inquiry into Mr Fluffy buyback scheme among accusations of 'intimidation' and 'harassment'

| Claire Fenwicke
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Mr Fluffy buyback scheme government sign

A petition has called for a board of inquiry to investigate the government’s Mr Fluffy buyback scheme, dating back to its inception in 2014. Photo: File.

A group of Canberrans have called for a board of inquiry to examine the transparency, accountability, fairness and flexibility of the “voluntary” Mr Fluffy asbestos buyback scheme.

A petition bearing 100 signatures has been tabled at the Legislative Assembly demanding an investigation into the scheme, claiming it wasn’t on just terms.

“The buyback scheme was designed to exert maximum pressure on ‘Mr Fluffy’ homeowners to surrender their properties and associated rights whilst maximizing large profits from ‘Mr Fluffy’ land sales, negating their responsibility to ‘Mr Fluffy’ homeowners and the general public,” principle petitioner Lorraine Carvalho wrote in the document’s explainer.

“It is almost a decade since this ‘voluntary’ buyback scheme was implemented. Remaining ‘Mr Fluffy’ homeowners are, in the majority, elderly citizens. They feel they are being treated as second-class citizens and will go to their graves mentally and financially scarred through no fault of their own.”

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The petition stated the government was warned about the issue in Canberra homes in 2005 and was advised to disclose to owners the “presence of harmful and potentially life-threatening asbestos in their homes”.

“Some contaminated homes were sold and resold on the open market. Many of these homes were renovated and extended,” it said.

An independent review from 2010 recommended the Territory strengthen warnings and provide updated information to existing Mr Fluffy homeowners, tenants and tradespeople.

The ACT Government then secured a $1 billion loan from the Commonwealth in 2014 to introduce the buyback scheme.

Mrs Carvalho argued a board of inquiry was needed to protect society’s “fundamental core principles” of accountability and transparency and that this issue was of “significant” public interest.

Her petition called for the government to establish a board of inquiry “as a matter of urgency” to investigate why the ACT Government chose the scheme over compulsory acquisition and examine the program from its inception in 2014.

It has also called for the board of inquiry to conduct a financial audit on the sale of Mr Fluffy blocks, the cost of the scheme, and outline where the unspent money from the $1 billion loan has gone.

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The petition was sponsored by Canberra Liberals Murrumbidgee MLA Ed Cocks, who said the government’s response to Mr Fluffy was one of the things that had inspired him to get involved in politics.

“When I saw what was going on all that time ago, it struck me as completely untenable that a government would treat its citizens, victims of a situation that was none of their fault, so poorly,” he said.

He argued this petition was “simply” asking the government to take a step which he felt should have been taken years ago.

“[It] would provide not only closure but a direction for the future for families that don’t see one right now,” Mr Cocks said.

Other terms of reference requested in the petition include:

  • Investigate “harassment” of Mr Fluffy homeowners, those who surrendered their properties and those who didn’t sign up to the Buyback Scheme.
  • Investigate retrospective legislative changes.
  • Investigate the “lack of flexibility and willingness to negotiate” with individual homeowners who didn’t fit within the boundaries of the Mr Fluffy Loose-fill Asbestos Eradication Scheme.
  • Investigate the handling and instructions given to the Taskforce, including “intimidation tactics used to coerce Mr Fluffy homeowners to join the scheme, in particular, the elderly”.
  • Investigate in the period 2003 to 2014 what the then ACT Industrial Relations Minister was informed about the degree of contamination and associated risk factors posed by Mr Fluffy, including why homeowners weren’t informed of the dangers before renovating their homes, why homes were allowed to be sold to “unsuspecting buyers”, and why it took 10 years before a scheme was put in place.
  • Investigate why, since 2016, has the ACT Government “continually refused” to introduce compulsory acquisition to obtain the remaining Mr Fluffy homes.
  • Determine when Mr Fluffy will be eradicated from Canberra homes as promised in 2014.
  • Investigate why the Mr Fluffy chapter in Canberra’s history has been allowed to drag on far beyond the set timelines “with no end in sight”.
  • Determine what plans exist to capture the remaining Mr Fluffy homes not surrendered.
  • Investigate any potential future risks of exposure to Amosite Asbestos.

The government has three months to respond to the petition.

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This atrocious ACT government needs to be exposed for its mistreatment of Canberra citizens. It should have been done ages ago but they kept refusing requests for an enquiry. It must happen before the next election.

Vinson1Bernie3:50 pm 25 Oct 23

Yes, the buyback was good but if you challenged the valuation and lost you were stuck on a lower amount so a gun was put to one’s head. I’m not sure it would pass muster today or why in fact someone has challenged it. Just because you signed up (virtually under duress) and then the land was sold for much more doesnt make it fair under the law

Linda Seaniger2:02 pm 25 Oct 23

Really a board of inquiry. What are the affected people trying to do get further compensation? Some of the states potentially have the same problem and their government didn’t bail them out.
I think the system was reasonably effective in compensating them, enabling them to move on to a non-contaminated area. And yes the government on sold the land once it was cleaned to recuperate some of the monies involved. Sounds like a win-win. I know some people were reluctant to leave their home, but as long as they were prepared to sign off and live in their homes and deal with any health implications. Perhaps we should’ve let them stay.

You’ve missed the main point here, that it was governments that caused this problem, not the homeowners. Owners of Mr Fluffy homes didn’t just lose a house. They lost their homes, their carefully created and nurtured gardens, the contents of those homes and their land as well as years of memories, neighbours and a way of life that they’d chosen and worked on for a long time in most cases.

They also lost a significant period of their lives through massive stress, distress and emotional devastation, with harm to health and family relationships. Many had to move out of their homes well before they found somewhere else to live. Then there was the process of trying to find a new home, with most unable to buy something comparable in the same neighbourhood.

Not allowed to keep their land, then being asked to buy it back at much higher prices was hardly fair. It reeks of profiteering at the expense of people’s misfortune. They’d done nothing wrong to deserve this. It was the fault of both the Federal and ACT governments.

Many could not afford to buy their land back, let alone to rebuild. This was going to require a loan and for those no longer in full-time employment, this was impossible. Many were elderly without other assets or income sources beyond a pension. Others had irregular income that made getting a loan hard, yet you were not paid until after the deal was done, so you had to get a loan from someone.

The ‘sale’ date was fixed at the time of least value for land, with some people being paid less than unimproved land value. Given the valuation was supposed to include house and land without asbestos, these prices were challenged as they suggested that the rates that had been paid were on a false overpriced valuation, as suddenly the land was worth less when the ACT government had to pay an owner for it. Or was the house worth a negative value?

A win-win???? Clearly you were not affected as you have no idea of the impact of this on those who were. Your comment is uninformed and lacking empathy.

In other states, people were allowed to keep their land. That was not allowed here. They could more easily rebuild as they didn’t have to pay more for their land than they were paid for it.

You say “governments” caused the issue and whilst that may have some merit, it wasn’t specifically our “government” that was to blame.

Our government could have offered nothing, so their treatment of these home owners was generous even without the completely reasonable terms offered.

“Not allowed to keep their land, then being asked to buy it back at much higher prices was hardly fair.”

That is 100% fair. The government bought the land and houses off them at market rates and then offered it back to them under the same terms with first rights on that land.

“Many could not afford to buy their land back, let alone to rebuild. This was going to require a loan and for those no longer in full-time employment, this was impossible.”

How is this relevant?

The alternative would be to offer these people hundreds of thousands of dollars in windfall financial benefits, paid from taxpayer funds.

How exactly would that be “fair”?

I know quite a few people who owned Mr Fluffy Houses and every single one of them came out of it financially better off due to the assistance and terms offered. The government’s terms were more than fair.

Chewy14 the people you know who did well out of this were the lucky few. Don’t forget there were over 1,000 households (several thousand people) directly affected by this disaster. The so-called market rates used in the compulsory acquisition were not the same rates offered years later when the land was back up for sale. There was no certainty over timing or price so it was almost impossible to get your block back unless you had deep enough pockets to wait the government out, and could afford the subsequent rise in land values. The government’s terms were not “more than fair” – they were the least worst option.

And it was the government’s fault – the Federal government. Unfortunately Katy Gallagher signed the ACT up to a terrible deal, rather than fighting for us, and Andrew Barr has done nothing to improve the problem.

And let’s not forget that despite being hundreds of thousands of dollars worse off because of this completely avoidable disaster, we Mr Fluffy victims could still develop asbestosis and die a horrible death. Thanks for your concern.

The ACT government covered up the issues, as well as covering up the remaining asbestos when it ‘removed it’. They told those removing it, to only remove what was visible. There is documentary evidence of this.

When the properties were onsold, the risks were not shared with potential owners many of whom were from interstate, so had no idea of the history. They were not informed buyers, through no fault of their own. The ACT government enabled owners to hide the history when selling, to pacify them and so they would sell at good prices. There was no pressure to inform buyers.

All through this the ACT government was happy to collect stamp duty and other benefits, whilst putting new owners at risk and leaving existing owners exposed to greater risks than they knew, by hiding the remaining asbestos and not telling people of the risks. This continued for years, with the ACT government failing to protect either existing or new owners. This was NOT fair.

People are still suffering. Some have died.

Yes, some owners did well, very well, whilst many did not. Those who did not, have had the rest of their lives affected in very negative ways, from financial loss and insecurity, to mental health problems, loss of trust in governments and complete loss of the sense that owning your own home enables safety and stability. People have learned that governments can deceive and bully them until they give in out of emotional exhaustion or financial inability to fight.

No they weren’t the lucky few, the valuators were obviously directed to be relatively generous and the way they were done was perfectly reasonable.

Only people who had recently done significant renovations or overcapitalised their properties could have lost out on that straight financial transaction.

Obviously there was significant emotional attachment and worry but that’s a separate issue and I don’t doubt it was a horrible experience. Many also clearly didn’t expect to have to try and purchase another house in the market at that time and weren’t ready for it.

“The so-called market rates used in the compulsory acquisition were not the same rates offered years later when the land was back up for sale.”

Yes, the land values had significantly increased in that time and vacant inner city blocks were extremely rare and valuable.

Consider a knock down rebuild which is the best comparison, how much does it cost to clear the existing houses and land to put an empty block to market? The government had already completed that for potential buyers paying significant costs in the process.

To give a lower price to Mr Fluffy owners would have been for the taxpayers to subsidise a significant wealth transfer to those people. It would not have been remotely fair to everyone else who would have funded it.

I am very happy for people who are financially better off. Do you know how many families out of 1000 families who are financally better of? I know that majority of the families are financially worse off. Why the govt is very scared for BOI? Most of us better off with fed govt loan directly comparing to what ACT govt’s scheme. Most of us better to knockdown and rebuild dual occ ourselves but these option is not available to us because the ACT govt would not allow us to do that. How is it a fair scheme?


So how do you explain those who were paid less than unimproved land value for house and land? Paying rates on unimproved land value for years and then being told the land wasn’t worth as much as soon as the government wanted to acquire it. Very convenient. And the double-brick house was worth nothing?

Not a wealth transfer if people were allowed to keep their land, rather than being forced to sell it at a price set by government incentivised valuer. Valuers were paid by government, so not at all independent. They followed government instructions in order to get paid.

The government was responsible and unfortunately taxpayers always pay for government mistakes and negligence. That doesn’t mean those harmed should be short-changed or cheated of the fair value of their land. Taxpayers need to carefully elect governments that do the right thing. They also need to hold them to account, rather than blaming the costs of their missteps on those harmed. That is the purpose of an inquiry.

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