HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [5.15 pm]: I rise to draw members’ attention to the Auditor General’s twenty-second report for 2019–20 titled “Regulation of Asbestos Removal”, which was tabled today. If members have not had a chance to review this report, I would highly recommend that they get a copy so they can review it over the break. It is a particularly concerning report and one that all of us need to pay very close attention to. I do not need to go over for members’ benefit why asbestos is so dangerous. The legacy of asbestos within this state has resulted in a devastating loss of life and chronic and serious illness. It is a shameful and devastating history. It is very concerning to discover from this report that we still, unfortunately, have quite a lot of work to do to ensure that workers and members of the community are going to be safe from the effects of asbestos.
The criteria for the Auditor General’s investigation included checking whether WorkSafe has adequate controls over the issuing of licences for asbestos removal and whether WorkSafe has in place an effective monitoring and compliance program. A number of recommendations have come out of this report, but in a nutshell the Auditor General’s conclusion was that she found significant gaps in WorkSafe’s processes and practices that limit how effectively it regulates asbestos removal licensing in WA, regulatory actions are not risk based, documentation is weak, and there is a lack of rigour and transparency in licensing approval controls. I agree with the comment of Owen Whittle, the assistant secretary of UnionsWA, who said, “There are so many levels of wrong in this.” I completely agree with that comment.
We rely on WorkSafe to keep a very close eye on this particular regulatory regime. We expect it to closely monitor what is happening with those people who have been entrusted with licences to undertake asbestos removal, and also to adequately respond to complaints when they are brought to its attention. This report has highlighted that we are far away from achieving that outcome. The Auditor General’s report found that staff within WorkSafe receive limited guidance on how they need to make licensing decisions and also that their licensing approval controls lack any rigour or transparency. It was found that even when audits are performed, they are not comprehensive or particularly well documented; the inspection regimes being undertaken by WorkSafe are happening far too infrequently; and the documentation is inadequate. It is also concerning that WorkSafe is not ensuring that it is engaging in awareness-raising activities. It is missing opportunities to do that. This means that the staff within WorkSafe are not receiving adequate training and guidance so that they can ensure they are making sound assessment decisions. There were heaps of problems with how WorkSafe keeps its documentation internally. I was particularly concerned to hear that WorkSafe’s IT system is so out of date that it has no way to monitor responses to complaints to determine whether there are systemic concerns with particular operators. WorkSafe received several thousand complaints raising concerns about asbestos over a long period, yet there is no clear way that it can identify whether a significant number of those complaints might relate to the activities of a rogue operator, for example. I am really concerned about that because the one thing we want to do is make sure that when people send complaints, those complaints can be followed up effectively and we can find out whether there are systemic concerns. WorkSafe also discovered that it does not have adequate processes in place to manage conflicts of interest around this issue. In a city as small as Perth—it is a small city—it is very likely that the people who work in this industry know each other and, potentially, could also work as the regulator. I am in no way suggesting any wrongdoing on behalf of any of the people working in WorkSafe. A perceived or actual conflict of interest needs to be managed. Again, the Auditor General found that that simply is not happening. We know from the audit that an inadequate number of on-site inspections are occurring where asbestos removal work is being undertaken. A chronic lack of good information is being made available to the executive to monitor what is happening in the overall WorkSafe regime.
I understand that WorkSafe has been gutted for years. This government has been trying to improve the status of WorkSafe. It has been looking at investing a greater amount into WorkSafe and has undertaken a number of reforms. Clearly, we have a long way to go. Anyone who works in the union movement will say that they know that anyway because of the ongoing issue of ensuring that WorkSafe can meet the level of need. I am looking forward to the report by the committee that has been looking into WorkSafe for the duration of this Parliament. That report is meant to come into this place. I spent a lot of time on this issue in the thirty-eighth Parliament, so I am keen to see where things are at now. We know that this issue needs to be given the utmost level of attention by WorkSafe. We have a serious emerging concern around silicosis. I have spoken about that on a number of occasions in this chamber. Members will hear more and more about that over the next decade in particular. Silicosis is devastating because of the young age at which people become seriously unwell and can lose their life. Frankly, the fact that we still have not sorted out the issue of asbestos in Western Australia does my head in. In the next few months, we will see legislation introduced to deal with the legacy of Wittenoom. We should have sorted that out by now. When I found out that the regulator has failed so critically in the way that it regulates asbestos, it chilled me to the bone. We have known for a long time that this is an ongoing issue. We know there is a problem with home renovators in particular being exposed to asbestos. We need an asbestos education campaign in place and we need to make sure that those who undertake asbestos removal are doing it properly and diligently and are well trained and well oversighted. This is not happening. A number of recommendations are in this report and, again, I urge members to read it. More than anything, I am hopeful that we are going to see progress on this from this government. Once again, the Auditor General demonstrates that she is worth every cent she is paid, and I give thanks also to her diligent team that continues to bring these issues to the attention of Parliament. Now this information sits with us and we have to make sure that the recommendations are acted on and that we see progress on this urgently.