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Telstra mulling asbestos-free future

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In a move likely to last just as long as it takes for its bean-counters to beat its lawyers into submission, Telstra has reportedly told the government it is willing to consider the removal of all asbestos from its network.

According to the ABC, Telstra's offer to consider the idea came during a meeting with workplace relations minister Bill Shorten.

Vulture South finds a complete removal highly unlikely. Telstra has already told the Australian Securities Exchange asbestos compensation is unlikely to have a “material” impact on its bottom line.

In other words, leaving asbestos where it is, drilling managers so that they absolutely must follow proper procedure, and paying compensation where it must will all be done, partly because these actions will be cheaper than a removal program likely to cost billions.

The scare campaign has reached such a pitch that even asbestos-free sites terrify residents – for example in Gungahlin, where Telstra has had to remind residents that they will not be at risk of asbestos exposure, because their suburb was developed after the material was out of use in its network.

Perhaps because Telstra's David Thodey has discussed asbestos in the terms of decades instead of months, the Federal Opposition has staged a strategic retreat from “bang the drum” to “call for calm heads”. Thodey has made it clear that the carrier dealt with asbestos for more than half a century, since its first use in the network was back in the 1930s.

It's also become clear that the removal of contaminated pits and ducts predated the definitive agreements between Telstra and NBN Co. The latter was announced in 2011, and came into force in 2012 – but minister Shorten said that more than 100,000 removals had been executed since 2010.

Given that haste is probably the greatest single contributor to the 29 incidents that have happened in that period, if Telstra were to consider a complete removal, the best way to approach it would be incrementally and based on circumstance – pretty much how it's trying to handle things right now. ®

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