A BATTLE is looming over the fate of the federal government's Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency, earmarked for axing in the federal budget.
Australia has the highest per capita rate of asbestos disease in the world.
The agency was set up last year with support from the Coalition. It had a $12 million budget over four years, with an additional $3 million to deliver the National Strategic Plan on Asbestos.
Shoalhaven asbestos inspector Neil Wallace from Asbestos Reporting said the move would cost Australians far more in health costs than it would save from axing the agency.
He said in his experience Australians still did not take seriously the danger posed by the substance.
“I believe the government should be going the other way and ramping up the education campaigns around asbestos dangers,” he said.
National asbestos support groups, lawyers and unions say the public will suffer continued deadly exposure if the agency is abolished.
The national commission of audit recommended this month that the only federal body addressing asbestos management and safety be abolished as a cost-saving measure.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said it was one of a number of agencies facing the axe because the Coalition considered them window dressing and that they were being misused for public relations purposes.
Agency head Peter Tighe said he had been shocked by the announcement. No one from the Department of Finance had contacted him or his staff to discuss their work before the commission of audit or budget.