Guidance for importers and exporters

Importing and exporting asbestos is prohibited under Australian law. The Asbestos Safety and Eradication Agency (ASEA) (Cth) is responsible for administering the import and export permission process for the Commonwealth Minister with responsibility for the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Minister). Currently that is the Hon Christian Porter MP, Attorney General, Minister for Industrial Relations.

Importers and exporters are required to satisfy the Commonwealth Work Health and Safety Minister’s discretion to grant permission, which could include consideration of health and safety risks and safeguards that could be put in place if permission was granted. More detailed information is provided below.

Importing asbestos into Australia

The importation to Australia of asbestos or goods containing asbestos is prohibited under the Commonwealth Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations 1956 (the Prohibited Imports Regulations), except in very limited circumstances.

The WHS Minister has the discretion to grant permission to import asbestos, or goods containing asbestos, for research, analysis or display purposes. The Minister may also permit importation of asbestos or goods containing asbestos from an Australian External Territory for disposal on the Australian mainland. 
The CEO of ASEA has been authorised by the Minister to grant permissions in some circumstances. 

You can apply for permission to import asbestos or goods containing asbestos by following the steps on the ASEA website here.

Please note, applying for import permission does not guarantee that it will be granted.
Owners must not ship their goods until they have been granted permission in writing. A copy of the permission must be produced to the Australian Border Force at the border.

Exporting asbestos from Australia

Export permission is required for asbestos, and asbestos in certain goods leaving Australia that fall to a description within Schedule 1 of the Customs (Prohibited Exports) Regulations 1958. This includes samples being exported, that potentially contain asbestos, to be tested outside Australia. 

The WHS Minister has the discretion to grant permission for exportation. The CEO of ASEA has been authorised by the Minister to grant permissions in some circumstances. 

You can apply for permission to export asbestos or goods containing asbestos by following the steps on the ASEA website here.

Please note, applying for export permission does not guarantee that it will be granted.
Owners must not transport their goods to the border until they have been granted permission in writing. A copy of the permission must be produced to the Australian Border Force at the border.

Australian External Territories

The WHS Minister is empowered to grant permission to import asbestos, and goods containing asbestos, from certain Australian external Territories to the mainland, to enable disposal in a state or territory. External Territories that asbestos can be lawfully imported from include:

  • Australian Antarctic Territory;
  • Christmas Island (Indian Ocean);
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands;
  • Coral Sea Islands (including Willis Island);
  • Heard Island;
  • McDonald Islands; and
  • Norfolk Island.

Important: Asbestos intended to be shipped from Norfolk Island, Christmas Island or Cocos (Keeling) Islands to the mainland requires an export permission for the asbestos to leave the external Territory in addition to an import permission for the mainland. These territories are subject to customs ordinances which extend the application of the Customs Act and associated regulations. 

The export and import permissions should be applied for together, as they are reliant on each other for the movement to occur. Other external Territories have various lawful arrangements, and asbestos exportation is controlled within those frameworks. 

The provision for the disposal of asbestos from an external Territory does not inhibit or relate to the lawful exception in regard to hazardous waste imported from, or exported to, a country outside Australia, that meets the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Act.

What to do if you’re unsure if the goods you’re seeking to import or export contain asbestos?

It is the responsibility of the importer or exporter to make sure that goods do not contain asbestos before they are imported into or exported from Australia. If your goods are found to contain asbestos and you do not have appropriate import or export permission they will be seized at the border by the Australian Border Force (ABF). More information on this can found on the ABF website.

Listed below are the steps you can take to make sure that your goods are asbestos-free before you seek to import or export them:

  1. Get a certificate, declaration or test result from an overseas supplier that confirms the goods or materials are asbestos-free

    Note, the Australian Border Force (ABF) cannot always rely on these kind of documents as confirmation that the goods being imported are ‘asbestos free’. Sometimes, more documentation is needed to confirm that the tests that have been undertaken are equal to Australian standards.

    It is also important to note that the definition of ‘asbestos free’ varies between countries, so it is important that all documents provide details on what is considered ‘asbestos free’ (i.e. some countries consider up to 1% of asbestos within goods to be ‘asbestos free’).

  2. Apply for permission to import a sample of goods for testing in Australia

    Note, testing should only be undertaken by an appropriately accredited laboratory

  3. Get a certificate, declaration or test result from an overseas supplier that confirms the goods or materials are asbestos-free

    Note, if the goods to be tested our outside of Australia, you may be able to organise for a laboratory that is a holder of a current permission to import asbestos to import the goods on your behalf before undertaking the testing for you.

For further information, visit the asbestos section of Department of Home Affairs website, or refer to their asbestos importation fact sheet which outlines:

  • how the importation of asbestos is regulated at the Australian border
  • products that are at particular risk of containing asbestos
  • how to make sure that materials being imported do not contain asbestos
  • the documents that importers can use to show that imported materials do not contain asbestos.

There is also further information on ASEA’s website to work out the likelihood of whether goods contain asbestos, and who to contact to import samples for testing