Minister Gabrielle Upton accused of double standards over asbestos

Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle at the site of dumped asbestos waste beside a walking track in the Blue Mountains National Park near Leura.
Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle at the site of dumped asbestos waste beside a walking track in the Blue Mountains National Park near Leura.

NSW government minister Gabrielle Upton has been accused of ignoring an asbestos scandal in her own environment portfolio while trying to suspend Blue Mountains City Council over its mishandling of asbestos.

Blue Mountains MP Trish Doyle said the environment minister failed to act on warnings over “asbestos dump sites” in the Blue Mountains National Park.

In her other portfolio of local government, the minister has threatened to suspend Blue Mountains City Council over its ongoing issues with asbestos management.

“We have a minister who with one hat on is trying to sack our local council because of its problems with asbestos, but when she puts on her other hat as environment minister she turns a blind eye to the very same problem in the very same region” said Ms Doyle.

“Minister Upton needs to decide for herself if she is simply negligent or utterly incompetent, but either way we need the asbestos cleaned up ASAP.”

Ms Upton described the attack as a “pathetic attempt to mix the asbestos mismanagement at Blue Mountains City Council with illegal dumping”.

“If she was a good local member she would have joined with me in raising questions about what has been going on at Blue Mountains City Council,” she said.

Ms Doyle said she has evidence Ms Upton has failed to act on written advice from members of the community about asbestos dump sites and that repeated requests for action via the National Parks agency and the Environmental Protection Agency, “both under her remit, have fallen on deaf ears”.

Speaking in Parliament a fortnight ago, Ms Doyle called on the minister to attend an asbestos dump site in Hazelbrook, which the Gazette revealed on February 6. 

“In the weeks since the publication of that article, it has come to light that a number of other dump sites across the Mountains were also reported to the minister and her agencies by local residents concerned about the risk of parks visitors and workers being exposed to airborne asbestos fibres,” said Ms Doyle.

“One such dump, near a walking track just off Mount Hay Road north of Leura, has been reported on multiple occasions by a concerned resident of Blackheath, with the earliest notification via the official National Parks and Wildlife Facebook page in 2015. Subsequent referrals were also made to the EPA in writing but to date no action has been taken by the NSW Government.

“The official response to those reports was that the matter would be referred to the appropriate personnel within the National Parks and Wildlife agency, but the dumped asbestos was still exposed to the elements when the concerned resident returned to the site in December 2017.

“When he visited the National Parks field office in Blackheath in January to discuss the matter with a parks ranger he was advised that there were inadequate resources to attend to the matter immediately but that it would eventually be dealt with.

“Here is yet another clear cut example of the impacts of the cuts by minister Upton to the National Parks and Wildlife budget,” Ms Doyle said.

“It’s not the National Parks’ workers fault – they are spread too thin and are not being given adequate support to do their jobs properly by a government which simply doesn’t care,” she said.

Ms Upton did not respond to the specific details of Ms Doyle’s claims, only stating the Labor MP was “both slow and wrong when it comes to the asbestos dumped at the Blue Mountains National Park”.

“It was dumped illegally and has been cleaned up,” she said.