Asbestos victims gain hope from law

RELIEVED: Laurie ApplebyLast month a bill to remove asbestos-related diseases from the Limitations Act 1974 was passed by the Legislative Council.
Nanjing Night Net

The change removes the six-year deadline on claims. When it comes into force on January 1, claims will be able to be made long after initial exposure.

Former Goliath Cement Works employee Laurie Appleby said yesterday he was relieved that Tasmanian workers could now be treated fairly.

“This change has come about after two and a half years of constant door banging and lobbying of politicians,” he said.

The symptoms of asbestosis and other asbestos-related illnesses sometimes do not appear for 40 years, but the Act had prevented workers who had been negligently exposed to asbestos from seeking compensation because it did not allow for retrospectivity.

Mr Appleby said that almost all Tasmanian asbestos victims had worked at Goliath’s Railton plant, now owned by Cement Australia.

Plant general manager Kevin Doyle declined to comment yesterday, saying it was a matter for the company’s head office.

Mr Appleby said he had unloaded asbestos, imported from interstate, from trucks at the Railton site from 1969 to 1979, and talks of working in “a snowstorm” of asbestos.

“The stuff used to come in bags from the company we bought it off and we would stack it up like bales of hay, with hessian bags everywhere,” he said.

“As president of Asbestos Disease Tasmania I get calls from people affected by asbestos-related illness every week.

“Our group is seeking legal advice as to who to pursue, Goliath or the company that supplied the asbestos or both.

“Goliath made all the asbestos products in Tasmania, and 90 per cent of the people who are now able to make a claim are former cement works employees.

“All cement products made at Railton by Goliath from the 1930s until the early 1980s contain asbestos.

“People don’t realise that it wasn’t just used in cement sheeting, it was also a binding agent in cement mix that you could buy in bags or from a cement truck.

“The problem is that there are cement paths and foundations out there that have asbestos in them, and people don’t know, and don’t take precautions when removing them.

“I have heard of wives of the men who worked there suffering asbestos-related diseases from washing their husband’s clothes.”

Some of his colleagues have died since Mr Appleby – who also has asbestos on the lungs – began his fight for change.

In August Mr Appleby presented Braddon Liberal MHA Jeremy Rockliff with a 2000-signature petition for all asbestosis sufferers to be recognised.

When the new law comes in, victims will have three years from that date to make a claim. Mr Appleby said that amendments made by Mr Rockliff to the draft legislation were vital to the new bill being worthwhile.

“And our champion in the Upper House was Greg Hall MLC, who made it possible for representatives to speak to all the MLCs a day before the draft legislation was debated,” Mr Appleby said.

He plans to hold seminars to ensure that Tasmanians are made aware of their entitlements under the new law.

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