Australian Greens additional comments
Pollution and accountability
The Australian Greens initiated the inquiry into contamination at the
Williamtown RAAF Base because of the extent and seriousness of the issue.
The Department of Defence has not provided adequate support for
Williamtown residents. There has been a lack of transparency on the issue by
the Department. This approach has compounded the problems arising from the
contamination in the Red Zone and the surrounding area.
Section 6.7 of the report notes that the failure to quickly notify local
residents has resulted in community confusion and mistrust, and has impacted
upon the community's ability to undertake proper precautionary measures against
consuming harmful levels of PFOS and PFOA. As the report notes proper
remediation of the site 'could take many years, or may prove impossible'
The Australian Greens believe that recovery from incidents like this
should be focused around community support, environmental remediation and
health improvement, not deflections and public relations strategising by
The Australian Greens recognise that in many cases local residents and
businesses are still in the dark about the impact that this contamination has
had on their own health, water sources and the local environment.
Many residents, living inside the Red Zone and near the Red Zone, have
formed residents' action groups to share information and campaign for
remediation, compensation and adequate health and environmental tests. The
Australian Greens note that the tenacity of these residents and action groups
has been a great asset to the inquiry.
As identified by the report the most serious issue arising from the
contamination has been the 'lack of Commonwealth Government leadership and a
reluctance to take full responsibility' for both the issue and the handling of
the issue (6.9).
The Department of Defence's failure to formalise a compensation scheme
reflects poorly on the Turnbull Government. Other federal government agencies
including Centrelink and the Department of the Environment have also not
demonstrated adequate responsibility. The Australian Greens consider the Department
of Defence's response to be passive at best.
The Australian Greens thank the committee secretariat, participating
Senators, hearing witnesses and all other community members who contributed to
this inquiry, including those who made submissions.
The Australian Greens agree with the committee's report and its recommendations.
We support the inclusion of the recommendations below, and we urge that the
Department of Defence act on all recommendations immediately.
The committee report notes NSW EPA's argument that 'there needs to be a
regulatory regime to incentivise Defence to adhere to the same environmental
standards applied to the rest of the community, and there needs to be an
authority to regulate contamination issues' (5.36). The report also notes that
there is no federal oversight of Defence's environment activities, nor are
there national environmental standards in Australia for levels of the chemicals
that have been used in firefighting foams (5.37; 5.43).
The Department of Defence and other relevant departments to work
together to develop national environmental standards for firefighting foam
chemicals, in line with world's best practice.
Regulatory mechanisms should be developed to regulate
contamination issues and ensure Defence adheres to environmental standards.
In the interim, Defence to follow the NSW EPA's advice (5.48) and
immediately take steps to contain contamination in Lake Cochrane.
The Committee report notes that, although it is not in a position to
make specific recommendations regarding remediation, Defence has committed to
follow-up remediation strategies as a priority (6.36).
The Department of Defence to provide a report updating the
committee on its progress on remediation strategies within six months.
The committee report recommends that the federal government publicly
commits to compensating both fishers and residents for any losses caused by the
contamination. The Australian Greens note that these losses may include the
devaluation of properties. Further the Committee recommends an initial
compensation package for affected commercial fishers (6.20).
The Australian Greens note that section 6.18 of the report advises that
a more thorough compensation program should be designed immediately with the
input of local relevant stakeholders.
The Department of Defence and related government agencies to
proactively offer immediate, adequate compensation schemes for residents and
workers who have been affected by the contamination.
Compensation to be offered to those who have incurred loss of income,
business damage, property devaluation, medical and health costs, and other
The term "fishing" also include prawning.
The Department of Defence and related government agencies should offer
voluntary acquisition of properties which have been significantly damaged or
devalued, either due to irreparable environmental damage or due to perceptions
of diminished value of the real estate. Recommendation 5 of the report sets out
that the Turnbull Government should undertake the voluntary acquisition of
properties which are 'no longer fit for purpose'.
The federal government offers voluntary acquisition of properties
which have been significantly devalued by the contamination due to perceptions
of diminished value of the real estate.
The Australian Greens are in agreement with the Williamtown and
Surrounds Residents Action Group that existing or proposed developments within
the 'Red Zone' should be suspended until the NSW EPA, NSW Health and hydrology
experts advise otherwise (5.55).
The Department of Defence to suspend plans for current and
proposed developments at the Williamtown RAAF Base until the contamination is
The Defence Department should install a program to fully fund blood
testing for residents and all workers who may have been exposed on the base, in
and around the 'Red Zone', on an annual basis. The Australian Greens note such
testing will help to contribute to international knowledge about the effects of
The Department of Defence to be proactive about offering this
testing to residents and workers.
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