Asbestos inquiry on hold until 2019

The public inquiry into the management of asbestos at Blue Mountains Council may not begin until midway through next year.

The commissioner appointed to conduct the inquiry, Richard Beasley, SC, said he believed he should wait until two other related investigations are completed.

SafeWork NSW and the Environmental Protection Authority are both conducting their own investigations into allegations of asbestos mismanagement at council.

A spokeswoman for SafeWork NSW told the Gazette: “The SafeWork NSW investigation into the management of asbestos by Blue Mountains City Council at Lawson remains ongoing and expects to conclude at the end of March 2019.”

Blue Mountains City Council chambers

Blue Mountains City Council chambers

The EPA confirmed it was also investigating “alleged offences relating to the handling of asbestos” by council.

It anticipated it would make a final determination in the first half of next year.

The NSW state election is due to be held on March 23. It is unclear whether a change of government could affect Mr Beasley’s inquiry.

The Office of Local Government issued a statement to the Gazette.

“The commissioner has been made aware of various other inquiries being conducted by NSW Government regulators and other agencies or investigative bodies into the general issue of asbestos management by the Blue Mountains City Council.

“While details of those investigations have not been disclosed to the commissioner, in his view it would not be desirable for him to conduct an inquiry into asbestos management issues relating to the council while other investigations into that issue are taking place.

“Accordingly, the commissioner has decided to defer inquiry into those terms of reference relating to asbestos management until such time as the other investigations are complete, or until such time as it is appropriate for him to commence his inquiry into those issues. The situation in relation to this matter should be clearer early next year.”

Mr Beasley will, however, continue to investigate his other terms of reference, which include the so-called jobs for the boys, whether there is a consultative and supportive working environment, and council’s organisational structure and allocation of resources.

It is not clear whether there will be public hearings into this part of his inquiry. Mr Beasley expected to make a decision on that shortly.