The District Court of WA has fined a major energy company $175,000 for importing gaskets containing asbestos, even though the court found the company had imported the asbestos inadvertently.
The Australian Border Force (ABF) said the judgement should serve as a warning for all businesses operating in Australia that import goods.
The multi-national company, which the ABF chose not to name, was convicted of two counts of contravening s233 (1)(b) of the Customs Act 1901 for importing a prohibited item, namely chrysotile asbestos, contained in gaskets in a condensate metering skid and two storage tanks in 2012 and 2013.
ABF Superintendent for Enforcement Operations WA, Clinton Sims, said the fact that the company was unaware the imported gaskets contained asbestos at the time of import did not excuse it from liability.
“When it comes to asbestos, ignorance is not a defence. The onus is on importers to ensure they do not bring prohibited goods such as asbestos into Australia.”
“In this case the company had voluntarily disclosed the asbestos detection, had co-operated with authorities and accepted liability, but ultimately it was still its responsibility to prevent the importation in the first place.”
Sims said importers needed to be aware of the increased risk when importing from countries with asbestos producing industries. This included not assuming that goods labelled ‘asbestos free’ are in fact free of asbestos, or that testing of goods undertaken overseas and certified ‘asbestos free’, meet Australia’s import requirements.
Earlier this year, the Federal Government made it a “tier 1” offence to transport asbestos across Australia’s border, meaning importers who knowingly or recklessly import goods containing asbestos can now be imprisoned for up to 5 years (see related article).
And a 2017 Senate Inquiry heard that despite an all encompassing ban on asbestos in Australia since 2003, the deadly material continues to find its way into the country, mostly from China (see related article).