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Chief executive officer's year in review

I am very proud to report that we have continued our forward trajectory set out in 2018–19 in the midst of a global pandemic. We started the first half of 2019–20 with a clear direction when the Australian Government officially launched the National Strategic Plan for Asbestos Awareness and Management 20192023 (NSP 2019–2023) at our 2019 Asbestos Safety Conference in Perth. I was pleased to announce that all governments have committed to working together to implement NSP 2019–2023 which builds on NSP 2014–2018 by including nine national targets to help us measure our progress over the next five years.

At the start of 2020, we initiated the development of the data analysis and reporting framework for NSP 2019–2023 and developing resources to support jurisdictional implementation. Only a few months later, it became apparent that priorities in government and non-government bodies were starting to change, responding to the impacts of the COVID–19 global pandemic. In April 2020, a number of agency staff were temporarily redeployed to support the Australian Government’s response to the pandemic. Many of our stakeholders were also experiencing disruption of their normal activities. Under these circumstances, we reprioritised our work to focus on awareness-raising initiatives, the redesign of the agency website and the review of existing research and communication material.

As a result, we responded to the trend of homeowners undertaking home improvements during the COVID-19 pandemic by developing social media messages, producing new animation videos and publications to raise community awareness about asbestos exposure risks in the home.

We also completed an analysis of the recommendations from research commissioned under our first NSP 2014–2018. This showed that many of the recommendations have been implemented or are in the process of being implemented. The analysis also highlighted areas where further action and research is needed, and we have included this work as part of our 2020–2021 research plan.

In relation to permits for importing, exporting, analysing or disposing asbestos, a total of 23 permissions were granted during 2019–2020.

This year has also seen new appointments to the Asbestos Safety and Eradication Council with the appointment of a new Chair John Williams and new members David Cains, Tracy Mackey and Chris Wicks. I am grateful for the advice and support received from all our current and former Council and Committee members as well as the stakeholders that assist us in achieving the objectives of NSP 2019–2023.

Like COVID-19, asbestos is a serious public health issue that requires coordinated action and consistent messages to ensure the right action is taken to prevent exposure. Unlike COVID-19, asbestos does not have the immediacy of health effects and can be easily disregarded. Even though the implementation of NSP 2019–2023 has been slowed due to the current global pandemic we are motivated to keep forging ahead to eliminate asbestos-related diseases in Australia and help the nations in our region do the same.