Blue Mountains Council fights suspension over asbestos management

Blue Mountains City Council has been granted a Supreme Court injunction against a decision by the state government to suspend the council following SafeWork NSW's findings on alleged asbestos mismanagement at several council-managed workplaces in the region.

Blue Mountains City Council was directed by SafeWork NSW in June last year to develop a council-wide asbestos management plan and was subsequently issued with 11 notices in relation to asbestos management at council sites.

Earlier this month, Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton issued a notice of intention to suspend the council for three months after suggestions were made that an independent investigator engaged by council to oversee the investigation into asbestos management had links to one of the council’s senior staff members subject to investigation.

Ms Upton said she was “seriously concerned that the safety of its community and work force has been compromised by inadequate processes to deal with asbestos”.

In its application to the Supreme Court, the council claimed there were no grounds upon which the minister may properly suspend the elected body of the council. The Supreme Court has transferred the proceedings for hearing before the NSW Land and Environment Court.

In her judgment, Justice Monika Schmidt said she was “satisfied that the Minister may be proceeding on the basis of factual errors” and that there were also “questions as to the Minister’s views regarding a conflict of interest on the part of Mr Tooma”, the chief investigator examining the asbestos issue.

Mayor Mark Greenhill said that Mr Tooma's engagement had followed a formal conflict of interest process, and a further review was undertaken by Maddocks solicitors confirming the appropriateness of the steps taken.

Mr Greenhill acknowledged there had been "organisational failures" in relation to asbestos management, but said council was continuing to address the issues on behalf of workers and the community.

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