Legislative Council: Tuesday, November 29, 2022


Asbestos Victims Memorial Day

The Hon. R.B. MARTIN (15:19): My question is to the Minister for Industrial Relations. Will the minister please advise the council about recent events related to the Asbestos Victims Memorial Day?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:19): Certainly, sir, I would be more than happy to do that, and I thank the honourable member for his question. I note that the Hon. Reggie Martin was at an Asbestos Victims Memorial Day event last week. I think it was the same event that was attended by a number of members of this parliament.

I am aware that the Premier and the Treasurer were both at the event the honourable member attended. I was very grateful to attend an event last week as well in the afternoon, hosted by the Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia at the Jack Watkins Reserve in Kilburn. I was joined at that event by a number of mayors from around suburban Adelaide and also the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos, who attended that event.

The Asbestos Victims Memorial Day is hosted each year on 25 November to honour victims of asbestos-related diseases and the families who support them. Attendees at this year's event heard from the President of the Asbestos Diseases Society, Peter Photakis, as well as a number of very humbling speeches from families of asbestos victims. The event is hosted at Jack Watkins Reserve, an area in Kilburn which in past years formed part of the Islington railway yards, where many workers were exposed to asbestos and some ultimately died after working on railway carriages.

The reserve is named in honour of Jack Watkins or, as he was sometimes known, 'Asbestos Jack'. Jack was born in Manchester, England, in 1935, and migrated to South Australia in 1966 with his wife, Cathy, and their two children. He worked in the construction industry and later in the union as a union organiser in that industry. He was a fierce advocate for health and safety and campaigned tirelessly to draw attention to the tragic effects of asbestos exposure on workers in the construction industry.

Jack was ultimately appointed to the United Trades and Labour Council as their asbestos and toxic waste liaison officer and was a founding member of the Asbestos Diseases Society of South Australia. Amongst his many campaigns, Jack sought to have the area next to the Islington railway in Kilburn cleared of asbestos and toxic waste and converted into a public park. This work was completed in 2003 and the reserve now bears Jack Watkins' name.

Sadly, Jack passed away in 2007 at the age of 72. The work that Jack performed, though, has turned what was a toxic dump for asbestos into a public park where this memorial is hosted each year and that stands as a testament that real change is possible when it comes to fighting asbestos diseases.

It is an astonishing figure that nearly 4,000 people each year die from asbestos-related diseases in Australia, a figure that is almost four times as high as the national road toll. While thankfully work-related asbestosis is showing a downward trend in recent years, we are now seeing new threats in other sorts of dust diseases. It is important that governments, businesses, unions, organisations, advocacy groups, researchers and members of the community work together to support a coordinated response to the threat posed by these dust diseases.

As I said in response to an earlier question, I am proud that this government has committed $400,000 of funding over the next four years so that the Asbestos Diseases Society and the Asbestos Victims Association can continue their important advocacy and education programs, and I thank both those organisations, those that support them, and the community for remembering on Asbestos Victims Memorial Day last week.