ON Monday, the chair of the PFAS subcommittee of the parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Andrew Laming tabled a report on the ‘Inquiry into the management of PFAS contamination in and around Defence bases’, which began in May.
The committee was asked to report on the management of PFAS contamination and the extent of contamination in and around Defence bases around the country, including water, soil, other natural assets and built structures; the adequacy of health advice and testing of current and former defence and civilian personnel and members of the public exposed; and remediation works at the bases.
The committee has made nine recommendations with a focus on improving the government’s response to the PFAS contamination issue, including to extend and simplify the blood testing program, and to improve health advice.
It has recommended that a coordinatorgeneral be appointed to ensure a “clear and consistent” approach to community consultations and to cooperation with state, territory and local governments.
There are 90 sites across Australia — including the Gippsland sites — being investigated for elevated levels of PFAS contamination, including some Defence and CFA training sites, and class actions have begun in some states.
Coalition Against PFAS president Lindsay Clout said the findings of the report vindicated contaminated communities in finding that both the Defence Department and government “not only lost control of managing PFAS contamination in Australia but in truth, never had any”.
“We welcome the recommendations regarding long-overdue compensation.
“Our homes and businesses have been contaminated by chemicals, our health put at serious risk, the mental and financial toll has been immense,” he said.
“Just as importantly, the inquiry committee has heard the message loud and clear from contaminated communities regarding the need for a nationwide response.
“We fully endorse and welcome its call for an independent, well-resourced, ‘PFAS Tsar’ or coordinator-general, to take charge of cleaning-up what will prove to be one of the largest ever chemical contaminations in our nation’s history.”
The Coalition Against PFAS is made up of representatives from communities around Australia, with foundation members from Williamtown, Oakey, Katherine and Gippsland.
Mr Clout said there should be “no more delays, no more excuses, and no more ignoring people whose lives have been utterly destroyed simply because of where they live”.
Australia is one of only a handful of countries that has failed to ban the chemicals.
Government response to the PFAS report
ON the release of the report, Assistant Defence Minister Senator David Fawcett and Environment Minister Melissa Price released a statement saying while there was “still no consistent evidence of human health impacts”, the government acknowledged that communities were concerned.
Senator Fawcett said Defence would continue to work with them to provide advice and assistance “as quickly as possible”.
The government’s first priority was to support affected communities, and to reduce their exposure to PFAS, by working towards investigating and removing exposure pathways, by providing alternative drinking water supplies in some locations, stopping the use of PFAS, and preventing PFAS contamination from reaching people and water supplies through filtration and treatments.
He did not confirm whether Gippsland was included in those remediation activities.
He added that the government wanted to close “knowledge gaps on any potential health effects of PFAS”, and investigate developing estate remediation strategies, through funding research.
“The government will carefully consider the committee’s recommendations and provide a coordinated whole-of-Australian-government response, through the PFAS Taskforce in the Department of the Environment and Energy,” he said.