Australia has had a total ban on all products containing asbestos since 2004, but a regulation originally aimed at Chinese, Russian, Indonesian and US building products, has recently begun to bite importers of vintage and classic motor vehicles. The Senator Nick Xenophon has been particularly vocal with regard to the importation of products containing asbestos, telling the
Sydney Morning Herald earlier this year, “Any country without a zero tolerance to asbestos should be banned from importing into Australia, unless every one of their products is tested prior to arrival on Australian shores… Australian Border Force (ABF) must be specifically resourced to properly monitor all imports and better protect people from this dangerous material.”
Recently, the ABF has taken the zero-tolerance interpretation to the full extent, catching many unsuspecting private importers of vehicles in their net. It is the responsibility of the importer to assure ABF officials that vehicles contain no asbestos, and this can be tricky. In older vehicles, friction material in brakes and clutches, insulation, gaskets in engine/transmission and exhaust systems and even wiring harnesses have been found to contain asbestos, and are therefore prohibited, and all costs associated with the detection of the substance must be borne by the importer. A spokesman for the ABF recently told the media, “It doesn’t matter how old the vehicle is, or what type it is – if we suspect it may contain asbestos, we will request assurances from the importer to ensure that it doesn’t.”
These costs can be substantial, and can even lead to confiscation of the vehicle. The ABF website states, “If the ABF suspects that goods arriving at the border contain asbestos, the goods are detained and examined. Documentation that provides sufficient assurance must be provided. The importer may be required to arrange testing and certification by a ‘competent person’ to ensure there is no presence of asbestos. The arrangement and cost of any independent inspection, testing and storage of the goods is the responsibility of the importer/exporter in Australia in accordance with section 186 of the Customs Act 1901 (the Act).” In other words, watch out, because the ABF is not known for a charitable attitude, and has a strict regime of penalties in place. From the web site again, “Border offences relating to asbestos can attract fines for individuals up to $180,000 or three times the value of the goods (if the court can determine the value of the goods), whichever is the greater, pursuant to the Customs Act 1901 (Cth).”
Steve Leembruggen, owner of Old Gold Motorcycles in Londonderry, western Sydney, has been importing used motorcycles for years and is highly critical of the stance taken by the ABF. “Nobody can show me a single case where any form of illness can be attributed to asbestosis caused by a motorcycle or motorcycle parts, yet we are targeted constantly. In Japan recently, I had to dismantle every bike in our shipment and removed the brake shoes, and I can prove this, but we still have to go through the process when the bikes arrive here, which adds considerably to the costs. One tiny component, such as a brake pad, can, and does, lead to a heavy fine. It makes me seriously consider whether the whole thing (importing used motorcycles) will be viable in the future. The government says they are all for small business, yet all they do is make it impossible for small shows like us.”
Obviously we have not heard the last of the asbestos debate, or should that be debacle! RENNIE SCAYSBROOK Guest Editor
OUR COVER Elvis Centofanti’s 1974 Laverda 1000 3C. See feature story on P58.