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An inquiry will look at per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substance (PFAS), an ingredient found in some firefighting foams.
Over the 46th Parliament, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade will undertake a watching brief of government action on PFAS harms and their remediation.
The Chair of the PFAS Sub-committee Dr John McVeigh MP said the inquiry will focus on the Department of Defence’s ‘National PFAS Investigation and Management Program’, with 27 defence sites now being assessed.
“In undertaking this inquiry, the Sub-committee intends to conduct a rolling but targeted review of the Government’s PFAS remediation responses over the entire Parliament,” Dr McVeigh said.
Dr McVeigh explained that the Committee notes the intensive community consultation in the previous parliament. Key departments, agencies and experts will be examined in public meetings and reports regularly submitted to the Parliament. Community commentary on the Committee’s reports will be invited, bringing the inquiry cycle full circle.
“The aim of this inquiry is to provide the community information about actual progress in remediation of PFAS-related harms to humans and the environment— what is being done, when, and how effective it is, and an opportunity to comment,” Dr McVeigh said.
The PFAS Sub-committee’s scrutiny follows on from a comprehensive review of Government responses to PFAS contamination in the last parliament. The inquiry report, tabled in December 2018, made nine recommendations to address community concerns.
The Committee awaits the Government’s response to this report.
Chair of the PFAS Sub-committee Dr John McVeigh MP said it will “bring the inquiry cycle full circle.”
Coalition Against PFAS President Lindsay Clout has issued a statement in response to Monday's announcement. (CAP represents contaminated communities in New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, West Australia and Victoria.)
Mr Clout said “This is farcical – a Government Inquiry into a Government Inquiry that the Government has refused to respond to".
"Dr John McVeigh is Chair of this latest Inquiry committee simply because the previous Chair, Liberal MP Andrew Laming, was dumped when he and his committee called for immediate action to remediate and compensate communities suffering PFAS contamination.
"When releasing the bi-partisan Inquiry report in December last year, Mr Laming stood up in Federal Parliament and said justice delayed is justice denied for contaminated communities. Yet last week, nine months later, the Government said it had no response to the Laming reports nine recommendations and no timetable for responding.
"After four years people in PFAS contaminated communities are beyond hurting and they get served up this absolute rubbish by our elected representatives.
"The Government Minister responsible for PFAS , Trevor Evans MP, last month said he couldn’t even fit a visit to any of the impacted communities around Australia into his schedule. So we’re seriously expected to think there will be an outcome from this latest attempt to be seen to be doing something?
"This is the third inquiry into PFAS contamination caused by the Defence Department in four years.
"If this Inquiry really wanted to keep an eye on what Defence and the Government is doing they can start by asking these questions.
"Why has the Department of Defence set aside $50 million in legal fees and costs to fight communities they admit they contaminated with PFAS chemicals for years?
"Why have Defence, through their actions in aggressively defending three class actions seeking compensation for the contamination, made it clear that they intend to force thousands of community members go to court next April to prove that Defence should pay for its mess?
"Why does the Government refuse to respond to the last Inquiry report?
"Why has Defence this month dumped its PFAS community consultation programme?
"Enough is enough from. Have some courage, have some conviction, our politicians must stop playing people whose health has been put at severe risk and property values destroyed, for fools" Mr Clout concluded.