Asbestos-affected victims finally have their pay day

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James Wallner under hospital treatment. Photo: Supplied

VICTIMS suffering from asbestos roof insulation inside their Canberra homes may never find closure, but after contracting mesothelioma many of the families have finally earned a degree of justice. 

Recognition from the Commonwealth over the widespread series of Mr Fluffy contamination incidents secured the federal government contributing $8 million towards a medical fund to cover expenses relating to the asbestos illnesses.

The ACT government had initially announced a scheme last year to financially assist victims who developed malignant tumours caused from inadvertently inhaling asbestos fibres that formed in the lining of the lungs, abdomen or heart.

The territory first agreed to pay out up to $250,000 of medical expenses to mesothelioma sufferer James Wallner, credited for campaigning governments for a compensation fund on behalf of all victims despite being diagnosed terminally with the fatal form of the disease.

Mr Wallner wants that to extend to families that have cared and given up everything after his wife Linda’s life and income was put on hold since first being diagnosed last July.

“Compensation, to me, seems important for people who follow me,” he said in an ABC Canberra interview last year.

“It is unlikely it will be finalised soon enough for me, but it’s important that people like Linda are compensated for leaving work for six months, for the extra duties, for having to get people in to do jobs that I would have done and essentially just for the loss of life.

“But the loss of earnings – I am relatively young; there is no recognition of the fact I am losing, still, at least 10 years of working life in a job I was enjoying.”

Mr Wallner is said to have deteriorated from the disease in the final days of his life.

The materials that filled the roof of a number of Canberra houses in the 1960s and 1970s were collectively referred as Mr Fluffy, a nickname coined decades later after Asbestosfluf Insulations and its successor J&H Insulation had installed fibrous, loose-filled amphibole, mostly brown asbestos.

Mr Wallner was one of many children, who contracted mesothelioma after playing in the roof that was commonplace in the day before knowing the dangers of the asbestos.

A list was released in 2015 from the ACT government, counting 1022 asbestos properties and suspecting possibly 30,000 persons affected by the Mr Fluffy insulation contamination.

After fighting last year against the federal government playing a role in contributing to the ACT asbestos disease assistance scheme, Minister for Health Greg Hunt has since turned full circle following listening to the stories of victims.

The Commonwealth previously claimed compensation was a territory matter that the ACT not only refuted, but blamed the responsibilities for falling sick fell on their counterparts.

“I’ve been deeply moved by the suffering of those who have developed mesothelioma and other asbestos-related illnesses, through the simple act of living in their home,” Mr Hunt said on Thursday (May 6).

Following accepting the scheme’s proposal from the ACT government, the Commonwealth has worked in close cooperation with ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr.

The ACT government is set to administer and announce eligibility details and parameters of the scheme as they are finalised.

Federal ACT senator Zed Seselja voiced his appreciation for the “tireless advocacy” by Mr Wallner after falling in line with the territory.

“As a Canberran, I have worked closely with my colleagues in government on this issue and I am proud to announce the Commonwealth’s funding to establish the scheme,” he said.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

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