Responsibility for asbestos removal at RHH falls to Health Minister

Photo: Michael Ferguson is accused of diverting responsibility for asbestos problems at the hospital site. (ABC News: Sam Ikin)

The Tasmanian Government is responsible for managing asbestos removal at the Royal Hobart Hospital redevelopment, it has been revealed, despite the Health Minister maintaining the responsibility falls to the contractors.

Unions and the Greens have attacked Michael Ferguson, arguing he has wrongly given the impression the managing contractors — John Holland Fairbrother Joint Venture — were in charge of asbestos-removal decisions.

In his ministerial statement on health to Parliament on Tuesday, Mr Ferguson said:

In addition, the handling of asbestos and rectification of fire separation deficiencies has impacted on the construction program to date, and is likely to further do so into the future.

As I have said previously, these issues were the direct responsibility of the builder and are in no way related to the design of the facility.

Kevin Harkins from the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), raised concerns about asbestos issues last week but had been told by one of the main contractors the buck stops with the Government.

“Sadly, John Holland said this is not their responsibility, it’s the client’s responsibility and in our point of view that’s the minister,” Mr Harkins said.

Representatives from the Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union (CEPU) and the CFMEU are demanding all potentially harmful material be removed for construction work to continue.

“[We] have written to the Minister asking for an urgent meeting. We’ve talked to hospital management, the development organisation,” Mr Harkins added.

John Holland Fairbrother Joint Venture has declined to comment.

Contractors acting on Government’s behalf

The Royal Hobart Hospital (RHH) redevelopment project director, Ben Moloney, confirmed the managing contractors and sub-contractors acted on the Government’s behalf.

“A key component of the refurbishment works for the RHH redevelopment has been the removal or remediation of asbestos-containing materials,” he said in a statement.

“These works are being undertaken on behalf of the project by the managing contractor, John Holland Fairbrother Joint Venture and their sub-contractors.

“The refurbishment works currently underway are valued at around $50 million.

“Asbestos removal and remediation is being delivered as part of these packages.”

The Greens health spokeswoman, Rosalie Woodruff, said Mr Ferguson was dodging responsibility.

“This puts a big fat question mark over the Minister’s denial of his responsibility,” Ms Woodruff said.

“It looks like staff and patients and workers are all in the same space, so the Minister needs to make sure that work on the building is entirely separated from staff and patients.”

A Government spokesperson did not respond to questions on its responsibility but in a statement said: “The redevelopment delay of the Royal Hobart Hospital is a guaranteed construction-sum project and will come at no extra cost to Tasmanian taxpayers.”