Plenty of asbestos left in Telstra's infrastructure

Independent taskforce set up by Labor at the peak of asbestos ­concerns has been dissolved but the Communications Workers Union says there's still "unfinished business."

The union movement has ­declared there is “unfinished business” with asbestos in Telstra infrastructure being used for the National Broadband Network rollout as a safety monitoring taskforce winds up. The Aus­tralian has confirmed that an ­independent taskforce set up by Labor at the peak of asbestos ­concerns has been dissolved after holding its final meeting in recent weeks.

The work of 14 ­independent monitors funded by Telstra and NBN Co has wound up.

It is understood that taskforce chairman Geoff Fary will write a report in coming weeks to go to Employment Minister Eric Abetz and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

In a recent bulletin to ­members, the Communications Workers Union has said there was still “plenty” of asbestos in Telstra infrastructure and that the end of the work of the independent monitors and the taskforce meant there was no longer a body for Telstra to report regularly to on its compliance with ­occu­pation­al health and safety. “The obvious danger is without such scrutiny, the old short cuts and dangerous work practices will return,” the bulletin said.

The union is urging members “aware of such practices” to come forward.

Telstra spokeswoman ­Nicole McKechnie said safety “is our No 1 priority and we continue to hold ourselves to the highest standards”.

“We have improved processes and supervision and increased our resources.

“Comcare is the regulatory agency with oversight of OH&S and we continue to work co-­operatively with them on the issue,” Ms McKechnie said.

It is believed a sticking point between the unions and Telstra has been over the provision of ­individual contractor details, which Telstra refused to provide.

Last year, following a number of reports of asbestos mishandling at sites around the country, remediation work was stopped on the pits.

The situation led to a three-month stoppage on ­remediation work on Telstra’s pits and pipes, used in the NBN rollout.

Last year, subcontractors facing financial ruin had considered suing Telstra for lost income during the work stoppage.