A delegation representing Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA partner organisations and staff from Laos, Cambodia, and Indonesia recently participated in the 2024 Asbestos Conference in Melbourne organised by the Asbestos and Silica Safety and Eradication Agency (ASSEA), together with the Faculty of Asbestos Management Australia and New Zealand (FAMANZ). Their objective was threefold: to gather insights from Australia’s experience in banning asbestos, to understand better the ongoing tragedy of deaths due to asbestos disease in Australia and to foster international and Australian collaboration to eradicate asbestos in Southeast Asia. 



The conference was opened by Lisa Chesters MP, co-chair of the Parliamentary Group on asbestos-related diseases. This event signifies an important milestone in the collaboration between Australia and Southeast Asian nations in addressing the asbestos crisis. Despite Australia’s ban on asbestos over two decades ago, its impact lingers, causing 4,000 deaths annually and requiring ongoing management for the removal of asbestos materials from all public buildings in Australia. Thus, the knowledge and practices acquired from Australia’s asbestos ban and the ongoing management of remaining asbestos are invaluable for devising solutions that can be applied across borders. 

During the conference, representatives of the delegation and Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA presented on the theme of ‘Asbestos Time Bomb in Asia’ to bring updates to the conference on the campaign. 

 Hon Lisa Chesters MP opened the asbestos conference.

Darisman Muchamad, chair of partner organisation, LION Indonesia and of the Indonesia Ban Asbestos Network (INABAN), emphasised the significance of international evidence in raising awareness about chrysotile asbestos hazards, particularly in countries like his.  

“Many industries in Indonesia say, ‘Well if asbestos is so dangerous, where is the proof?’ Well, that is what we do in LION, we get the proof and that’s why the international evidence is so important”. 

Dr. Suvanthong Bouakeo from the Ministry of Health of Laos highlighted efforts to train workers and warn consumers about exposure hazards of asbestos, helping to achieve a 50% reduction in the number of factories manufacturing asbestos roof sheets in Laos over the last decade.  

“With Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA we are working to improve the situation in the country, and we reached a 50% reduction of the factories that manufacture asbestos roof sheet and import asbestos fibre”. 

The delegation consisted of Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA country managers from Cambodia and Laos, Sok-Kin, the union leader of the Building and Wood Workers Trade Union Federation of Cambodia, Mr Kamchan Sivanthong from the Lao Federation of Trade Unions, Dr Bouakeo from the Ministry of Health Laos, Darisman and Ajat Sudrajat, representatives from the Indonesia Local Initiatives OHS Network (LION). Additionally, ASSEA was able to invite representatives from the Cambodian Government to attend the Conference, an important initiative as Cambodia announced its ban on asbestos planned to take effect in 2025.

Australian government recommits to the international campaign 

The conference also provided an opportunity for Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA and ACTU, supported by Maurice Blackburn, to host a welcoming event for activists and supporters to meet with the delegation. The guest speaker for the occasion was the Australian Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek MP, who reiterated the Australian government’s commitment to advocating for stronger global measures against asbestos exposure. This includes pushing the reform to the hazardous chemical listing process within the Rotterdam Convention to enable the listing of chrysotile asbestos and other blocked chemicals. 

“As a government, we know that it is our moral duty to continue to advocate for stronger measures globally to prevent people from being exposed, to prevent the harm and death from that exposure and we will keep working with the ACTU, with APHEDA to see those bans finalised” – Tanya Plibersek, Minister for the Environment and Water.  

Union Training 

The participants had the opportunity to visit the Victorian Asbestos Eradication Agency and CFMEU offices. Additionally, two participants, Darisman and Sok Kin, received accredited training in asbestos removal and supervising asbestos removal. Darisman underwent training in Perth with the assistance of Unions WA, while Sok Kin received “Working from Heights” training in the Khmer language at the CFMEU Training Centre in Melbourne. A special thanks to CFMEU Vic/Tas Branch, VAEA, and UnionsWA for their support! 

Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA thanks the Asbestos and Silica Safety and Eradication Agency (ASSEA) and the international supporters Solidarity Centre Cambodia and the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat for supporting the delegation to contribute to this important meeting on asbestos safety and eradication. 

This project is funded by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) and the Australian Unions: AEU, AMWU, CEPU, MUA, NSW NMA, UWU.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!