The Senate referred the inquiry into the management of PFAS contamination in and around Defence bases to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade in December 2017. Before deciding how to proceed the Committee sought further information from the Government on its response to PFAS contamination emanating from Defence bases. Upon receiving that information, in a letter from the then Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, and in the report of the Independent Expert Health Panel, the Committee established a PFAS Sub-committee to undertake this inquiry.
This report contains significant recommendations with a focus on improving the Government’s response to this issue, particularly in relation to the concerns of the affected communities. The Committee has recommended that a Coordinator-General be appointed with the authority and resources necessary to more effectively coordinate the whole of Commonwealth Government effort in respect of PFAS contamination and to ensure a clear and consistent approach to community consultations and to cooperation with state, territory and local governments. The Committee has made recommendations to improve the voluntary blood testing program as a source of longitudinal information on the long term health effects of PFAS exposure and the effectiveness of measures to break PFAS exposure pathways. In many instances, property owners in PFAS contaminated areas have suffered demonstrable and quantifiable financial losses and the Committee has recommended compensation.
This issue has driven many otherwise ordinary citizens to organise, conduct research and develop significant expertise in an effort to be heard. It should not take years of campaigning at this level of effort to adequately address the legitimate concerns of communities of people.
On behalf of all the PFAS Sub-committee members, I would like to thank and pay tribute to the many members of PFAS affected communities across the country who made submissions to the inquiry and who appeared to give evidence at public and in-camera hearings. The hearings at Katherine, Williamtown and Oakey were remarkable for the intensity of the emotion that could not be masked. These communities are hurt and angered by the effects PFAS contamination, and the delays and inadequacies in the response to its discovery, have had on their lives, their families and their communities.
For most citizens, and even expert witnesses, appearing before a parliamentary committee can be a daunting prospect at the best of times. For many of our witnesses it was a particularly distressing experience to explain before strangers how they and their families have been affected by PFAS contamination. I trust that this report honours their effort.
Mr Andrew Laming MP