Telstra ready for NBN asbestos work again



blog Those of who who pay close attention to the National Broadband Network situation (hell, isn’t that just about everyone these days??) will remember the panic caused in June when it was discovered (well, re-discovered) that many of Telstra’s telecommunications ducts, pits and pipes were chock-full of dangerous asbestos and that some contractors were just pulling it out of the ground willy-nilly. Well, shortly after that event, Telstra, which is ultimately responsible for the situation, halted asbestos-related work on the NBN, while it put in place a raft of measures to deal with the situation. And now, according to the Government, just a short couple of months later, Telstra is ready to start work again. Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations Bill Shorten tells us in a media release late last week:

Minister for Workplace Relations Bill Shorten said that it was agreed by all members of the independent Asbestos Taskforce that safe resumption of work on telecommunications pits was a key priority.

Telstra reported to the Taskforce yesterday that it would be seeking approval from its Board to resume work. Comcare reported to the Taskforce that they are satisfied that appropriate actions are being taken by Telstra to address work health and safety for asbestos related hazards. We look forward to that occurring as a matter of priority.

Work on telecommunication pits containing ACMs will only resume when training has been completed by employees and contractors. Fourteen monitors are being recruited around Australia to report to the Taskforce. The Taskforce also noted the strong response to advertisements for independent monitors. They will be checking the safe removal and handling of asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) in telecommunication pits. The monitors will be verifying that work on the NBN roll out that may involve ACMs is being conducted in a way that ensures the safety of employees, contractors, nearby residents and the general public.

The Taskforce was established by the Australian Government in June to monitor the ongoing activities of Telstra and NBN and prevent exposure to asbestos. Asbestos is a cruel, indiscriminate killer and because of its widespread use over much of the 20th century, it remains a persistent threat to Australians. The Government views the identification and safe removal of asbestos as an absolute priority.

The Taskforce has met on six occasions and is headed by Geoff Fary (Chair, Asbestos Management Review). Its membership includes representatives from Telstra, NBN Co., the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA), Comcare, industry unions, asbestos community support groups and work, health and safety experts.

The Government established the first National Asbestos Exposure Register in June. The register captures the details of members of the community who think they may have been exposed to ACMs. The register is managed by ASEA and is available at If residents or businesses wish to report suspected ACMs, please call the national work health and safety regulator, Comcare, on 1800 888 468.

It’s good to see that everyone concerned is ready to move forward on this one, but personally we’re a little suspicious about the rapid nature of the turnaround. It seems like Telstra went from a situation where asbestos contamination was indiscriminately occurring around Australia at NBN worksites, to a situation two months later where Telstra appears to believe that everything is under control. But does this really represent the situation on the ground, or is it all just Telstra PR guff? It’ll be interesting to find out over the next several months. I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve heard on this issue.

Image credit: Telstra


  1. Renai
    I suspect an element of damage control
    The problem is recognised as Telstra’s, not only an indicator of past actions/attitudes, but most especially current project management of the issue.
    If Libs win and try to palm the NBN off on Telstra as possible, this will be an issue for all concerned, so out with the big brush and the whitewash.
    Clearing the decks so to speak

  2. My personal suspicion is that Telstra had a plan ready to roll, knowing full well for the past 3 or 4 years that this moment was coming. They just wanted to avoid the cost for as long as they could.

  3. I find it truly implausible that Telstra has had no knowledge. They will have been aware, though perhaps the scale of use may have long since slipped common knowledge (outside of contractors performing work).

    That they (Telstra) might have tried to defray costs and seek some sort of Government assistance to perform cleanup, also seems pretty obvious. Less a case of “sekrets” and more a case of Telstra stalling for time, and money, perhaps.

    If Mr Turnbull decides to weigh in on this, he best remember this stuff will be potentially waiting for him, too.

  4. I suspect Telstra workers themselves have the training, they just needed a “refresher” on it. Not sure about the cowboy contractors though…

  5. ” I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve heard on this issue.”
    Excellent reason for Telstra to support the FTTN option apart from all the other benefits, Remediation and asbestos work is I suspect costing them far more than they budgeted for out of that $11B, especially in the worst sector, that last mile.
    Expect fun with the cable records

  6. Strongly suspect that the whole thing was blown out of proportion for political gain, gain which they are planning to elicit again after a potential Liberal election win. I fully expect a “FTTN is better as we won’t have to expose people to asbestos and this save money on pit remediation”.

    Call me a cynic but Telstra is doing everything it can to assist with a liberal political agenda.

    • Of course it is. They are in the best bargaining position in over a decade.

      If Turnbull wants to deploy FTTN, he will have to talk to Telstra. Unlike Renai, I don’t believe for a moment Telstra and Malcolm Turnbull have any sort of unwritten agreement (gentlemens, or otherwise).

      • And Telstra has Malcolm over a barrel thanks to Section 51(xxxi) of the Constitution of Australia

  7. This will definitely be an issue of contractor management and compliance.

    Telstra has shown that it can meet the regulations in normal operations but when it is scaled up to a project the size of the NBN, issues occur. Is it ready to oversee the work properly?

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