Today the public hearing into the impact of the toxic contamination from the Williamtown RAAF Base will be held at the Newcastle City Hall. Many of you will know about the contamination from reading this paper – it was local coverage that alerted many Williamtown residents to the fact that their water and soil was potentially contaminated.
While the Department of Defence and the NSW Environmental Protection Authority have passed the buck back and forth to each other, offering little commitment to those who are affected, residents have been left to their own devices. Last month a group of Williamtown locals hopped on a coach and travelled to Parliament House in Canberra. They met with me and members of the Labor and Liberal parties. They were forthright, knowledgeable and determined to stand up for their community. They joined a press conference, held signs on the parliamentary lawn and demanded the answers that they are entitled to. They are still owed answers.
I have spoken to many residents who live and work in and around the ‘Red Zone’. Many have fears about their health and wellbeing, about property values plummeting, toxic water supplies and suffering local businesses. Some have made submissions and will have their voices heard today. Many are members of the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group and Fullerton Cove Residents Action Group.
I hope that today’s inquiry will provide these locals with answers and assistance. But we should also bear in mind the limits of such inquiries. Senate inquiries can make recommendations but they are not binding on government. Those who have been affected from this toxic pollution deserve immediate assistance, including compensation and health checks, and ultimately it is incumbent upon the Department of Defence and the federal government to provide that.