1. Introduction

On Wednesday 18 September 2019 the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) initiated an inquiry into the Department of Defence 2017-18 Annual Report, focusing on matters relating to the Department of Defence’s National PFAS Investigation and Management Program, and referred it to its PFAS Sub-Committee.
This inquiry follows the JSCFADT inquiry in 2018, during the last Parliament, into the management of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in and around Defence bases.
As part of this inquiry, the Committee sought to monitor government action on per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS) harms and their remediation over the course of the 46th Parliament.
The aim of inquiry was to provide an opportunity for the public, and PFAS affected communities, to hear what is being done by government. It also aimed to provide an opportunity for the Committee members to raise issues affecting constituents and to improve government accountability.

Previous interim reports

This report is the final in a series of three reports issued by the Committee as part of this inquiry in the 46th Parliament.
The first report for the inquiry, the first progress report, was presented to Parliament on 20 December 2019.1 It covered evidence taken at public hearings on 25 November 2019 from experts at the Australian National University (ANU) PFAS Health Study and from the Department of Defence on 2 December 2019. The first report of the Committee’s inquiry assessed the progress of Defence’s remediation work against the background of reforms and research into the broader impacts of PFAS substances on humans and the environment.
The Committee’s second progress report was presented to Parliament on 31 August 2020.2 The second report, evaluates the Government‘s response to the JSCFADT’s recommendations against evidence taken in this inquiry to date. It also covered evidence received up to June 2020.
A government response to the Committee’s second progress report was presented out-of-sitting to the Senate on 20 January 2022.3

Conduct of the inquiry

The Committee called for submissions on 21 October 2019. The Committee received 27 submissions and 1 exhibit, which are listed in Appendix A.
The Committee held 14 public hearings throughout its inquiry, which are listed in Appendix B.
Hearings held between November 2019 and June 2020 are discussed in the Committee’s first and second progress reports. As such, this report focuses on evidence received in hearings held since August 2020, as listed in Table 1.1.
Table 1.1:  Hearings since August 2020
Hearing date
24 Aug 2020
United Firefighters Union of Australia
31 Aug 2020
Researchers from Macquarie University
9 Nov 2020
30 Nov 2020
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
7 Dec 2020
Ventia Utility Services, Emerging Compounds Treatment Technologies (ECT2), and Synergy Resource Management
3 Sep 2021
Department of Defence, DITRDC, Airservices Australia, researchers from Macquarie University, and researchers from the University of Queensland
22 Oct 2021
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (PFAS Taskforce), Department of Health, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand
26 Nov 2021
Community members, Department of Defence, Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority
15 Dec 2021
Researchers from the Australian National University

Report structure

As a committee of the Parliament of Australia, the Federal Parliament, the Committee has focused on the action undertaken by federal government entities. The phrase the Australian Government will also be used to refer to the federal level of government in Australia throughout this report.
For community members seeking information the range of government agencies involved in PFAS remediation at the federal level can be a point of confusion. As such, this report is structured by the entities that provided appeared at public hearings. This is to provide a clearer picture of the role and work of that each entity has undertaken in relation to PFAS investigation and remediation since the Committee’s last report in August 2020.4
For ease of reference, this report will refer to the collection of per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, including PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS as PFAS.
Chapter 2 discusses the experiences of individuals affected by PFAS contamination. The Committee invited certain members of the community, who had provided evidence in the 45th Parliament, to provide their reflections on the progress of PFAS management and remediation since 2018.
Chapter 3 discusses evidence from the Department of Defence.
Chapter 4 discusses evidence from the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, which manages the PFAS Taskforce.
Chapter 5 discusses evidence from Airservices Australia and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications (DITRDC), which have responsibilities relating to PFAS investigations at certain commercial airports in Australia.
Chapter 6 discusses evidence from the Department of Health, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand.
Chapter 7 discusses the collaboration between the federal government, and state and territory governments.
Chapter 8 discusses evidence from companies contracted by the Department of Defence that are delivering technologies to remediate PFAS on certain Defence bases.
Chapter 9 discusses evidence from researchers undertaking studies into PFAS.

Concluding comment

The Committee is disappointed about the delay in the receipt of the Australian Government response to its second progress report. This report was tabled in August 2020, with a response expected to be tabled in the Senate within 3 months of this date. The Australian Government response was received in January 2022. Further, the Committee is concerned that the Australian Government has not committed to timely action on all Committee recommendations which were agreed or agreed in principle.

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends the Australian Government expedite the implementation of any recommendations made by this Committee in its reports to date which have been agreed or agreed in principle and which remain outstanding.

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