Defence Facilities Chemical Contamination

I want to commend the member for Paterson for this motion. It is a very timely motion and I also want to commend the member for Paterson for her tireless and fierce advocacy on this issue. Since she was campaigning, since she was preselected, she has been on this issue talking with the community, working with the community, to get the best results for that community. I want to commend the member for Paterson for her tireless and fierce efforts on this issue.

I never thought I would wish for the Prime Minister to be more discursive. I never thought I would keenly await a word from the Minister for Defence Industry. I never thought I would be checking my inbox on a Friday afternoon, hoping to find a media release from the Minister for Defence as she takes out the trash before the weekend rolls round. And yet, here we are. Here we are—three weeks since the Department of Defence released the preliminary sampling report into the extent of legacy firefighting foam contamination at 12 defence sites around the country. Three weeks have passed and the Turnbull government has not said anything. Not a thing! Three weeks have passed since 12 communities had it confirmed to them that, yes, the local defence base has been contaminated and, no, it is not clear what happens next. Three weeks with no action from this leaderless government.

We on this side of the House will not sit on our hands while those opposite sit on theirs. Labor is doing what it has always done on this emerging national issue and it is leading from the front. The government has just sat on its hands. Labor led from the front when we initiated the Senate inquiry into the contamination at defence and other Commonwealth sites. Labor led from the front when we developed a comprehensive policy response to the issue, and it was the Turnbull coalition government that copied it. Labor led from the front when we called for the establishment of an intergovernmental task force to coordinate a consistent response across the country. The news that the member for Groom mentioned about this interdepartmental task force in PM&C— that is news, member for Groom. Labor led from the front when we supported offering blood tests to residents, and the government copied it.

Labor lead from the front again today in our call for air sampling in the Williamtown investigation zone. We call for it because there are concerns amongst residents that they may have been exposed to contaminants through breathing the dust outside. Considering the ingestion of dust has been recognised to become a low-level source of PFAS exposure, we believe this course of action to be the right thing to do. It is important to note that the Williamtown Human Health Risk Assessment recognised the potential for inhalation of surface soil-derived dust within the investigation area.

The assessment deems the risk it poses to be low and tolerable under the numerous pathway scenarios modelled —but certainty is everything here. When we are dealing with a fast-moving, emerging national issue such as that of PFAS contamination, it is important to bring the community along with us every step of the way. While the scientific literature continues to evolve at this pace, it is inevitable that residents will receive conflicting advice from different sources. It is a recipe for uncertainty at a time when certainty is critical.

It has been three weeks since the release of the preliminary sampling report and since Defence said it will start more comprehensive tests in 'early 2017'. Residents might not have results until 12 months after testing starts, whenever that will be. That is a long time to wait for answers. Labor has called on the government to intervene and accelerate the testing time line. The sooner the Turnbull government acts, the sooner the communities will know the extent of the contamination—and they deserve to know. Communities deserve better than this government, which is overflowing with Defence ministers and sorely lacking in leaders. Not one of the Turnbull government's three Defence ministers has managed to say so much as a word on PFAS contamination. Not one has managed to pierce the uncertainty that has developed since the preliminary sampling report was released three weeks ago —not one word. One party is supporting residents and the other is ignoring them.

Communities are facing uncertainty right around the country. They should not be left to suffer in the Turnbull government's silence. Residents deserve a government that listens to them and responds to them, that says to them: 'We hear you, communities who are suffering.' That says to them: you are not on your own. It says to them: we are here to help. Residents deserve a government that says something to them. Yet, here we are, waiting for a word, and all we can hear from those opposite is the sound of empty chairs.

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