MERYL SWANSON MP - MEMBER FOR PATERSON

WILLIAMTOWN IN LIMBO AS CONSERVATIVES BICKER 

November 29, 2017

The toxic dysfunction of the Berejiklian and Turnbull governments at State and Federal level has derailed their ability to find a solution for those affected by contamination from RAAF Base Williamtown.

Federal Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson flew to Canberra today, even though the House of Representatives was postponed by the Turnbull Government, for a requested meeting with Defence Minister The Hon. Senator Marise Payne and Head of the PFAS Taskforce The Hon. James McGrath.

During the meeting, Senator McGrath assured Ms Swanson that a number of options were being considered, and Senator Payne stated that “defence stands ready to do whatever is asked of it from Government”.

Ms Swanson asked about progress of the Taskforce’s submission through Cabinet and details of potential support packages for those living in the contaminated area but the Senators were unable to answer.

There was, however, one startling revelation which came from the meeting; Defence had not been invited to the recent Williamtown Community Reference Group briefing, during which the NSW EPA dropped the bombshell that the Williamtown ‘management area’ had been expanded by 250 properties.

“I asked the Minister why Defence wasn’t present at the Sunday briefing, to which Senator Payne replied: ‘We were not invited; actually, we were expressly informed that we were not invited’,” Ms Swanson said.

Throughout the hastily convened Williamtown Community Reference Group meeting, which revealed new maps and zones based on extensive sampling, the hydrogeology of the area and the topography, representatives of the NSW EPA expressed frustration with Defence.

The EPA emphasised that the modelling projected the PFAS plume’s movements out to 2050 assuming that Defence did not make substantial efforts to ‘contain and remediate’, and emphasised that the term ‘management zone’ did not allude to any off-base decontamination by the EPA.

“The Turnbull government can’t get its act together to formulate a plan of action for the people of Williamtown, and the Berejiklian government appears to be at odds with the Federal Department of Defence,” Ms Swanson said.

Late last week the Member for Port Stephens Kate Washington moved a motion that resulted in the Parliament of NSW calling on the Prime Minister to provide a solution to the ‘serious contamination of these people’s homes’.

“Despite the long-promised ‘whole of government’ response to the issue, we have a conservative State government calling on the conservative Federal government to take responsibility,” Ms Swanson said.

In May, 2017, when Ms Swanson brought Senators Payne and McGrath to her electorate of Paterson to meet with affected Williamtown residents, Ms Payne assured those gathered that the problem would be addressed at all levels of government.

“…[I]t is a very complex issue for government at all levels, at local and state and territory and federal level,” Ms Payne said in May.

“So we are working together, it is on the COAG agenda - it was placed on the COAG agenda by the Prime Minister in December of last year. So the jurisdictions across the board are aware of the implications of some of the work that is being done.”

The disunity between the state and federal governments clearly shows this is not the case.

“And why? If fault lies with the NSW EPA, and the injuries people have suffered through falling property prices or emotional distress prompted by the declaration of the Red Zone, then the responsibility to put things right lies with the Berejiklian Government,” Ms Swanson said.

“If fault lies with the Department of Defence for continuing to use PFAS after receiving advice to the contrary and continuing to pollute the area with a potential toxin, it’s a matter for the Prime Minister and his team to put right.

“There’s accountability and action required from all levels of government. They must work together. Instead, we have a dire example of federal and state government malfunction and a lack of cooperation to assist our community at a time of disbelief and dismay.”