Blue Mountains council facing suspension over alleged asbestos breaches

The Blue Mountains council is facing suspension by the NSW government over alleged serious asbestos breaches, after the substance was discovered at a number of council-owned sites including two pre-schools and a library.
苏州桑拿

Local government minister Gabrielle Upton issued the council with a formal notice of “intention to suspend” on Wednesday in relation to its asbestos management practices.

The council must respond to the allegations within seven days, or it will be suspended for three months and a temporary administrator appointed. Councillors will remain in place during the seven-day response period.

“I am concerned the council is not functioning effectively following the volume and scope of recent regulatory notices issued by SafeWork NSW and the Environment Protection Authority,” Ms Upton said.

The minister’s intervention follows the launch of an investigation by SafeWork NSW on Monday, after inspectors discovered asbestos at a number of council properties.

The properties included a pre-school building at Wentworth Falls, a pre-school in Katoomba where asbestos was discovered in leaf litter in the backyard, and the Lawson Library ceiling.

Asbestos was also discovered in large waste piles at the council depots at Lawson and Katoomba, buildings at Springwood council depot, the ceilings and walls at Warrimoo Citizens’ Hall, and the fireplace at Heatherbrae Cottage at Lawson.

Following these discoveries, minister for better regulation Matt Kean announced on Monday he had directed SafeWork NSW to investigate asbestos management practices at the council.

“This is a very significant step but it’s absolutely warranted as the number of asbestos discoveries in the mountains, and council’s poor asbestos management, are alarming,” Mr Kean said on Monday.

He said SafeWork was inspecting around 20 locations nominated as potential asbestos hot spots.

Blue Mountains mayor Mark Greenhill, a Labor councillor, hit back at the government’s move to suspend the council, saying the decision was “politically motivated.”

“[The government is] setting aside a democratically elected council before their own inquiry has even got underway,” Cr Greenhill said.

Cr Greenhill said he first became aware of the council’s asbestos issues in May and elevated them to the full council.

Since then, he said the council had been working “hand in glove with SafeWork NSW” and had “complied with every request, announced our own investigations, and opened every part of the organisation to scrutiny”.

“I am confident that there is nothing more that the council can do, over and above what it is already doing, to deal with the asbestos management issues.”

He said the council would respond to minister Upton’s notice within the seven-day deadline.

Greens councillor Kerry Brown said she had attempted to raise the issue at recent council meetings after becoming aware there was a “systemic problem” in October.

She said members of the community had begun approaching her with concerns that their family members had been exposed to asbestos.

“The focus should not be on protecting the council or protecting ourselves. It’s about protecting workers and the community,” she said.

She said she believed the councillors had “not knowingly participated in negligence and had assumed that safety systems were in place and they weren’t”, but added that “we weren’t asking hard questions”.

“We have not, as a governing body, been across the issue anywhere near as well as we should have been.”

However, she claimed a “culture of secrecy” within the organisation had made it difficult for councillors to get information.

“It’s almost rude to be asking questions. As a councillor, I have struggled to get information,” she said.

Wentworth Falls Pre-School has been closed by SafeWork until it’s safe for children to return. At other sites, SafeWork has ordered council to take immediate measures including exclusion zones to ensure safety.




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