Tuesday, 5 September 2017
Defence Facilities: Chemical Contamination
I seek leave to amend general business notice of motion No. 454 standing in my name for today, relating to the contamination of Australia's Defence Force facilities, in the terms circulated in the chamber.
I move the motion as amended:
That the Senate:
(a) notes that:
(i) the 2016 Senate inquiry into contamination of Australia's Defence Force facilities and other Commonwealth, state and territory sites in Australia concluded that there were many points of failure in the Department of Defence's response to PFOS/PFOA contamination at the Williamtown RAAF Base,
(ii) there are still residents in the NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) mandated "Investigation Area" in Williamtown, known locally as the "Red Zone", who report relying on bottled water shipments from the Department of Defence, despite repeated requests to be connected to the reliable and uncontaminated town water supply,
(iii) there is growing concern of reports of an extensive cancer cluster of up 49 cases, particularly around the area of Cabbage Tree Road, and
(iv) many residents in Fullerton Cove, outside the current EPA- mandated "Investigation Area", have reported returning abnormally high results for PFOS/PFOA contaminants in their blood; and
(b) calls on:
(i) the Federal Government to immediately release information on what actions and strategy its PFAS (poly-fluoroalkyl substances) Task Force have and are taking regarding property values in the Williamtown Investigation Area,
(ii) the Federal Government to investigate the design of a voluntary buy-out scheme for affected properties,
(iii) the Federal Government to urgently develop, make public and implement a plan to prevent further contamination and clean up existing contamination from the Williamtown RAAF Base, and
(iv) the Department of Defence and NSW EPA to re-examine the current boundaries of the Williamtown "Investigation Area" and investigate reports of extensive contamination outside the current boundaries.
The coalition government understands the uncertainty that has been generated by PFAS detections around defence bases, particularly at Williamtown and Oakey, and the need to respond as quickly as practical. The whole-of-government task force within the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet will ensure appropriate actions continue, including consideration of any additional support for local communities that may be required. Defence has provided over $4 million to Hunter Water to connect properties in Williamtown to town water, and this work is underway. The government has commissioned a study to help authorities better understand the potential impact of PFAS to human health.
The government is also providing $12.5 million over four years to establish a national research program to study the potential effects of exposure to PFAS on human health. The investigation area at Williamtown was set by the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority. Any change to the boundaries is a matter for the New South Wales government.
Labor has consistently led from the front on the PFAS contamination issue. The Williamtown community has its own champion, the member for Paterson, who is fighting hard for the people of Williamtown and is working with the defence minister and the PFAS task force. The Turnbull government has said it is working on a solution for residents of Williamtown and surrounds, and Labor calls on the minister responsible for the PFAS task force to release the details of the solution without further delay. This is why Labor must oppose the motion as it is presented. The Turnbull government adopted many of Labor's PFAS policies from the 2016 federal election, including the establishment of the PFAS task force. The task force has been investigating community concerns regarding property valuation and is developing a policy solution for affected communities. Labor shares the anger and frustration of residents and calls on the PFAS task force to announce its PFAS solution as soon as possible to provide some certainty for affected communities, including Williamtown.
Almost two months I ago I wrote to the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator McGrath, for the government's response to an article titled 'Cabbage Tree Road cancer figures "mind-boggling"', published in the Newcastle Herald on 8 July 2017. The response from Senator McGrath was extremely disappointing, especially considering the revelations in that article that a 49th person with cancer had come forward, having lived in the red zone at Williamtown. Senator McGrath's response included the line: 'There is currently no consistent evidence that exposure to PFAS causes adverse human health effects.'
One Nation have offered a number of solutions to the government for funding the work on remediation and voluntary buyouts, but they have fallen on deaf ears. We have been urging action on this matter since well before the last federal election, and we will continue to fight for the severely affected communities. One Nation strongly support this motion.
Dangerous toxic contamination continues to pour out of the Williamtown base. The defence department has taken total responsibility for this severe contamination. Now we hear that Labor and the coalition will not be supporting what is really a very measured motion. All we are asking is for the task force to release the information for the federal government to investigate the design of a voluntary buyout scheme. It's a way to work through solutions for people who are at their wit's end because of the lack of action. Let's remember that in 2015 this Senate signed off on the investigation into what was happening at Williamtown. We came forward with some very solid recommendations. The chain is still being dragged. Now Labor is kicking it into the long grass. That's no way to treat these people.