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Axing of asbestos watchdog shocks head

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 25/05/2014 Emma Macdonald
Said the agencies facing the axe are considered by the Coalition to be "window dressing": Finance Minister Mathias Cormann. © Alex Ellinghausen Said the agencies facing the axe are considered by the Coalition to be "window dressing": Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

A battle is looming over the fate of the federal government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, which was earmarked for axing in the budget papers.

National asbestos support groups, lawyers and unions say the public will suffer continued deadly exposure if the agency is abolished.

An estimated 40,000 people are expected to die in a third wave of asbestos-related disease following contact with the carcinogen in their homes and workplaces.

The national commission of audit recommended this month that the only federal body addressing asbestos management and safety be abolished as a cost-saving measure.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said in budget week it was one of a number of agencies facing the axe because the Coalition considers them to be ''window dressing'' and that they were being ''misused for public relations purposes''.

Agency head Peter Tighe said he had been shocked by the announcement. No one from the Department of Finance had contacted him or his staff to discuss their work before the commission of audit or budget.

The agency was set up last year with support from the Coalition. It had a $12 million budget over four years, with an additional $3 million to deliver the National Strategic Plan on Asbestos. Australia has the highest per capital rate of asbestos disease in the world.

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