Revisiting a WA Institution: The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia 

by Laurie Kazan-Allen



Now in its 46th year of operations, the Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) is more relevant than ever. Having had the privilege of catching up with ADSA colleagues during a recent trip to Western Australia (WA), it was clear that far from slowing down the Society’s staff were even busier than usual with nearly 3,300 in-person appointments, phone/online enquiries, hundreds of individual counselling sessions and outreach events in 2023. The challenge posed by the emergence of a new cohort of silicosis patients injured as a result of working with engineered stone necessitated the expansion of the ADSA’s remit. The development of bespoke resources was initiated and new systems implemented to care for these silicosis sufferers, including a dust screening program under the supervision of the Society’s new GP Dr Peter Brockhoff.1


ADSA CEO Melita Markey addressing the ADSA’s Annual General Meeting on March 22, 2024.

Sadly, 159 members of the Society died last year; the rights of most of them to institute lawsuits had been blocked by WA legislation preventing people from bringing additional claims following the manifestation of new asbestos-related diseases; this legislation, which was part of WA’s Civil Liability Act, was commonly referred to as the “once-and-for-all rule.” 2 As Attorney-General John Quigley explained, under the Civil Liability Amendment (Provisional Damages for Dust Diseases) Bill 2024 introduced into the WA State Parliament on April 18, 2024:

“The current ‘once and for all’ rule disadvantages people who have a non-malignant dust-related disease, such as asbestosis or simple silicosis, but go on to develop a more serious form of disease, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer.

The proposed provisional damages regime modifies the ‘once and for all’ rule in certain circumstances. For example, people will not be restricted in the number of claims that can be made for further damages, provided that such claims relate to the development of a different injury or disease which was expressly identified at the time of the initial judgment.”3

Commenting on the news, Melita Markey – who was one of a number of ADSA representatives at Parliament House to witness the passing of this legislation on April 18th – said:

“The Asbestos Diseases Society of Australia (ADSA) is grateful for the care and compassion the Cook Government and the Attorney General have shown to asbestos diseases and silicosis sufferers today.

The Government has listened to the ADSA by introducing provisional damages which will significantly reduce the burden on sufferers and their families as they battle these incurable diseases.”

For decades, the ADSA has been lobbying for the “once-and-for-all rule” to be amended. As Ms Markey explained during a phone interview on April 22, 2024:

“The changes announced on April 18 ensure that asbestos and silicosis sufferers in WA will have the same legal rights as sufferers elsewhere in the country. Until now, many of our members have had to navigate through choppy legal waters with very little certainty of achieving optimum outcomes. They were angered by the patent unfairness with which they and their families were treated. As of now, our members are playing a waiting game until proclamation day, which we hope will be in July 2024. Until then, everything is on hold. The ADSA and its legal advisors are planning outreach seminars to update members on what the changes mean for them.”

In our discussion, Ms Markey commented on the incredible teamwork that went into achieving this landmark breakthrough, highlighting the extraordinary input and political insights of WA trade unionists and labor party politicians including Kate Doust, Member of the Western Australian Legislative Council, who in 2013 tabled a private member’s Bill – The Asbestos Diseases Compensation Bill 2013 – to close the compensation loophole.4


ADSA’s Melita Markey speaking outside Parliament House on April 18, 2024.

Never one to rest on its laurels, as well as progressing legislation and medical protocols to improve rights and treatment options for its members, the Society has been researching asbestos exposure levels at various WA sites including the Mt. Keith nickel mine operated by the BHP Group Ltd. An expose which appeared in the April 11, 2024 issue of The West Australian revealed evidence of dangerous conditions despite reassurances from WorkSafe that asbestos levels at the mine did “not exceed safety levels.”5 Analyses by an accredited laboratory of samples collected by contractors and given to the ADSA “came back positive for a material level of white asbestos, a mineral which can cause cancer and lung diseases.”6

Commenting on the situation, Ms Markey said:

“Workers and contractors are concerned they are being told they are handling ‘fibrous minerals;’ they want clarification regarding the type of minerals at their worksites. Bearing in mind that the effect of combined exposure to asbestos and nickel – both of which are lung carcinogens – is likely to be multiplicative, these concerns are well-founded.

A paper published in January 2024 in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives revealed that: ‘most co-exposure to the selected lung carcinogens [asbestos, respirable crystalline silica, nickel, chromium (VI) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons] result in higher risk compared to individual exposures that underline the importance to eliminate or reduce and control exposures to carcinogens in workplaces and the general environment…’ With the likely presence of silica at the nickel mine, there is an urgent need for WorkSafe to rethink its current position.”7

April 24, 2024


1 Kolovos, B. Australia will become the first country to ban engineered stone bench tops. Will others follow? December 14, 2023.

2 Reducing the burden on Asbestos and Silicosis Sufferers in WA. April 19, 2024.
28th Ecumenical Memorial Service Speech by Former WA Premier Hon. Peter Dowding SC. November 23, 2023.
Failures of the asbestos ban – 20 years on… November 20, 2023.

3 Just and fair compensation scheme for sufferers of dust diseases. April 18, 2024.

4 Nicholson, L. Push to close WA's asbestos compensation loophole. April 14, 2014.

5 Rauso, A. ‘More needs to be done’ after asbestos detection at BHP Nickel West’s Mt Keith clashes with WorkSafe result. April 11, 2024.

6 Hill, L. Asbestos exposure concerns unearthed at CITIC Pacific’s mega Sino Iron magnetite project near Karratha. February 6, 2024.

7 Email received April 20, 2024 from Melita Markey.
O’Neill, R. Mixed exposures to lung carcinogens at work heightens risks. February 5, 2024.



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