Telstra blamed for national asbestos scandal
THOUSANDS of Telstra pits containing asbestos around the country may not be officially checked before National Broadband Networks operations begin, after safety breaches in three states.
The mishandling of asbestos in the pits, which started in southern states last week, widened to include three Queensland sites on Monday.
Reports from the state government revealed at one of three safety breaches, asbestos may have been left lying on the ground exposed near a pit for as long as five days.
The national scandal has largely stemmed from Telstra workers and subcontractors not taking proper precautions in the removal or remediation of asbestos contained in the pits.
It is understood the state government wrote the federal government regarding the problems, but Canberra had not yet received the correspondence on Monday.
The widening problems sparked a crisis meeting in Canberra attended by NBN Co, Telstra chief executive David Thodey, two Gillard Government ministers, union officials and various high-level public servants.
During the meeting, Mr Thodey said Telstra took on the full responsibility for the workplace health and safety breaches which has already seen two families removed from their homes.
"I am very clear, wherever we take on the reasonability of remediation, Telstra is responsible, no questions asked," he said.
While he said Telstra had taken on 200 new employees to help deal with the situation, he said only spot checks would be able to be completed, not a complete check of the entire Telstra network.
Such a project would literally involve inspections of tens of thousands of Telstra pits, many of which were unlikely to be disturbed under the current NBN plans.
Mr Thodey's assurances came after Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten produced three letters he sent to Telstra in 2009.
Mr Shorten had asked about the pits and how they could be safely removed, but he said on Monday Mr Thodey's assurances in response were now proven to be "inadequate".
He said despite those assurances being inadequate, he was confident Telstra would take on responsibility for the problems unfolding in the NBN roll-out.
Mr Shorten also said once he gained the ministerial responsibility for workplace safety, he had remained satisfied with the previous response.
Shareholding Minister for NBN Co, Senator Stephen Conroy, said he was also satisfied that Telstra had shouldered the responsibility, arguing the NBN Co should not be held responsible.
Senator Conroy said the issue was not NBN Co's until the official handover of pits for roll-out work and the contract with Telstra outlined the need for the telecommunications company to complete the remediation.
He said the growing asbestos problems would not affect the cost or timing of the NBN roll-out as Telstra's remediation works were being completed six months ahead of the NBN schedule.
A Telstra spokesman confirmed there were "tens of thousands" of pits across northern NSW and regional Qld, but would not confirm how many were likely to be disturbed as part of the NBN roll-out.