The first significant public/media exposure of the asbestos danger at Wittenoom & the danger to everyone from blue asbestos came in July 1974 with the Bulletin magazine’s cover story written by Tim Hall warning: ‘Blue Asbestos: Is there a killer in your house ?’
Between July 1977 and January 1978 the ABC broadcast Matt Peacock’s seven-part series for the Broadband radio program in which he investigated the dangers to workers’ health in Australia’s asbestos industry. In February 1978 the West Australian published a feature article by Catherine titled ‘Blue Asbestos – The Latent Killer’, which also told of asbestos workers’ deaths both here and overseas and warned readers of the fibre’s extreme danger.
Here Matt Peacock recalls how he became aware of the asbestos issue and the challenges he faced trying to bring them to public attention.
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As Matt Peacock continued his research he discovered that while asbestos was already a big story overseas, it was one the media in Australia had totally ignored. In his view this was owing to a deliberate media strategy on the part of the main asbestos manufacturing group, James Hardie Industries.
Matt Peacock found that, when he began exposing the truth about the dangers of asbestos, the two main unions covering asbestos workers, the Australian Workers Union and the Miscellaneous Workers Union, were not helpful. They did not believe there was a problem.
The broadcasting of Matt Peacock’s Radio National series began to have an impact, raising awareness about the hazards of asbestos around the country.
Once on the trail of asbestos Matt Peacock began to see it everywhere and became aware just through his own experience of how pervasive it was in our environment. This led to more stories.
Matt Peacock’s dogged reporting did have an impact – soon government attention was focused on introducing regulations to control asbestos, even though pressure from the James Hardie company meant it was many years before asbestos was finally banned in Australia.
A radio career followed which took Peacock to Washington and New York, reporting for the ABC’s AM, PM, The World Today and Background Briefing programs. From 1997-2000 Matt Peacock was chief political correspondent for ABC Radio’s current affairs Canberra bureau, and was subsequently posted to London, where he won the Foreign Press Association’s 2003 award for best story by a locally based foreign correspondent.
Since 2004 Peacock has been a senior reporter with ABC TV’s 7.30 Report. He has written for a number of newspapers, magazines and journals and has previously published two books based on his radio programs: Asbestos: Work as a Health Hazard and The Forgotten People – A History of the Australian South Sea Islander Community.