Villawood Contamination: Police Threaten Boycott
By Paul Farrell, Luke Bacon, Lawrence BullMay 2, 2013
Following revelations that easily spread asbestos remained unaddressed at Villawood, the NSW Police Association is threatening to ban officers from the controversial detention centre.
The police association may ban its members from attending emergencies at the Villawood immigration detention centre unless the federal government immediately has the asbestos threat at the facility independently reviewed.
The federal Greens, calling this “a potentially life and death situation for employees and the people being held in Villawood”, also demanded action.
The concerns follow revelations in The Global Mail with Detention Logs this week that 165 current asbestos contaminations – including 27 classified as “medium risk” and friable, or easily spread – had been detected and reported at the Villawood centre in both 2011 and 2012.
Villawood detention centre was temporarily closed for asbestos remediation work in 2006, after the police union enforced “blue ban” that kept officers away until the health and safety agency WorkCover declared it safe.
Now the police want another investigation to determine the threat from reported asbestos.
Inhaling asbestos fibres can cause lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma.
“We are extremely concerned about reports that the asbestos threat has re-emerged and the risk that it poses for our members, other workers, the detainees and the local community,” Scott Weber, president of the Police Association of New South Wales, said in a statement.
“The association’s executive will consider imposing another ban on the site if the government does not act immediately to satisfy our concerns.” A request has been put to WorkCover for comment.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship, in a statement that copied verbatim its response to whistle-blower concerns about asbestos raised in 2011, told The Global Mail on Monday that asbestos at Villawood is monitored and well within “acceptable levels”.
The departmental spokeswoman, Lancia Jordana, did not directly address questions about whether 27 instances of “friable risk” were safe, nor what action had been taken to isolate, manage or remove the asbestos as recommended in the registers, which were released under Freedom of Information laws.
A further request remains with the department for details or documents explaining how the department concluded these contaminations were within acceptable levels.
The Greens’ immigration spokeswoman, Senator Hanson-Young, called on the government to clarify what has been done.
“I want answers, as I'm sure the employees and refugees in Villawood do, too, as to why the recommendations in the 2011 Hazardous Materials report were not followed,” she said in a statement.
“Because of the government’s inaction, the 2012 report contains the exact same hazards and recommendations, and now we're supposed to believe that they have it all under control?”
The Minister for Immigration, Brendan O’Connor, has not returned calls for comment.