Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has urged Williamtown Red Zone residents to fully engage in a review of how to best use PFAS contaminated land around the Williamtown RAAF Base.
But he declined to commit to funding buy-backs that are likely to be essential to achieving the government's goal of repurposing the land for productive uses.
The review, to be undertaken by Jim Varghese, was a Labor election promise.
"PFAS has been a big issue for a long period of time. The former government kicked the can down the road and my government is responding," Mr Albanese said.
"If you go back and look at the commitments that my government has made, we act on them."
In addition to Williamtown, the review will take in communities around RAAF Base Williamtown, the Army Aviation Centre Oakey (QLD), and RAAF Base Tindal (NT).
Working in consultation with federal, state and local governments, affected communities and industry, the review will explore alternative uses for impacted land around the three bases.
This includes identifying opportunities where adjacent land may be repurposed to support the Australian Defence Force to deliver on the Defence Strategic Review, while better supporting communities.
In some cases, this could include potential government buy-backs of properties for uses including defence industries and residential purposes.
Two parliamentary inquiries have already recommended the consideration of buy-backs as a way of assisting residents trapped on near-worthless contaminated land.
But Mr Albanese said he would wait for the review's recommendations before committing to buy-backs.
"What we are prepared to do is have an independent review and not preempt it. That's why you do a review. We want to look at what's the best way forward," Mr Albanese said.
Mr Varghese, Assistant Minister for Defence Matt Thistlethwaite and Paterson MP Meryl Swanson met with community members at Williamtown on Wednesday.
Fullerton Cove resident Lindsay Clout, who is also president of the National Coalition Against PFAS, said he was optimistic about the review.
"It was a refreshing change to have somebody sitting on the other side of the table asking what they can do to help us," he said.
"We certainly gave him some information to go away and think about. We have spelled it out many times before so it comes out pretty easy."
Despite settling a $86million class action with the Commonwealth in 2020, many residents still live daily with the affects of PFAS contamination.
In addition to voluntary buy-outs of those living in the primary PFAS management zone around the Williamtown base, residents have called for rezoning changes within the Red Zone and the removal of the restrictions on the outer zone.
Mr Varghese, who has experience conducting reviews at state and federal levels, will gather feedback from the three impacted communities, traditional owners, industry and government to increase the shared understanding of the relevant issues.
His review is due to be completed by early 2024.
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