PRIME Minister Julia Gillard has laid responsibility for the widening Ballarat National Broadband Network asbestos scandal straight at the feet of telco giant Telstra.
Speaking exclusively with The Courier, Ms Gillard said she understood Ballarat residents were worried about instances of illegal dumping of asbestos dug up to prepare for the rollout of the NBN.
"I am very concerned about this issue with asbestos here in Ballarat and right around the country," she said.
FULL COVERAGE OF BALLARAT ASBESTOS SCANDAL
Ms Gillard said it was Telstra's responsibility to properly prepare its pits and ducts for the NBN, comparing it to a landlord-tenant relationship between the telco and the federal government.
"This is Telstra's responsibility, squarely and simply, to have the pits and ducts in an appropriate condition for NBN Co to then roll the fibre out from," she said.
Telstra is currently auditing the asbestos management work practices of its contractors and will release the findings in the coming days.
Telstra Chief Operations Officer Brendon Riley has said the telco was taking responsibility for all asbestos related activity performed by its contractors.
The Courier has reported a number of instances of improper dumping of asbestos by Telstra contractors working on pits and ducts in the Ballarat area.
A new dumping ground for asbestos bags was revealed today at a sheet metal business on Melbourne Road.
It is believed the bags have come from contractors involved in the remediation of Telstra pits to make way for the NBN.
There are also allegations more than 80 truckloads of untreated asbestos-contaminated soil were dumped in Black Hill by Telstra contractors.
Ms Gillard denied the growing issue was the result of the federal government putting on pressure to try and meet NBN rollout timelines.
"Absolutely not. This is Telstra's responsibility, this is not anything to do with the decisions we've taken to roll out the NBN," she said.
Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten will speak with Telstra, unions and other stakeholders on Monday to try and get to the bottom of the issue.
Ms Gillard said Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had also made it "very clear" to Telstra that they need to "step up and do the right thing".
"If you rented a house or anyone rented a house and found asbestos in it that wouldn't be the responsibility of the renter, that would be the responsibility of the landlord to address," she said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.