$51.2m package to implement fire inquiry recommendations

A $51.2 MILLION package to implement the recommendations of the re-opened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry was announced in Morwell on Friday.

The package includes the establishment of a Latrobe Valley Health Zone, which will study the health of residents and focus on improving health outcomes.

There will also be funds for increased air quality testing in the area.

The funding announcement came after the final report into options for rehabilitating Latrobe Valley coal mines and the rehabilitation bond system was tabled in state parliament.

The inquiry board found the current rehabilitation bond system was ineffective and recommended an interim increase to existing bonds while a more effective bond system is developed.

The board also found the current regulatory system lacked transparency and clarity, while there were concerns about mine stability, sourcing water and water quality under current rehabilitation plans to create lakes in the open pits.

The government has already taken a number of actions, including the introduction of annual public reporting on rehabilitation in coal mines, expanding the Technical Review Board to include a rehabilitation expert, and launching a $2.2 million research project into mine stability and rehabilitation in the Latrobe Valley.

On Friday, it was announced that the state government will develop a regional strategy for the rehabilitation of Latrobe Valley mines and modernise the regulation of Victoria’s coal mines. The government also announced the existing bonds will be increase to 50 per cent of the mine’s self-assessed value by June and 100 per cent by January 2017, while developing a more effective system to set future rehabilitation bonds.

The re-opened inquiry previously reported on whether the Hazelwood Mine Fire contributed to an increase in deaths in the Latrobe Valley, and health improvement measures.

Energy and Resources Minister Lily D’Ambrosio said the government had already taken action to strengthen risk management at the coal mines, establish a Mine Fire Safety Unit and reform Victoria’s mining regulator.

“We are acting immediately to increase the rehabilitation bonds for the Latrobe Valley coal mines so the community can be confident the mines are safe and will be rehabilitated,” she said.

President of community group Voices of the Valley, Wendy Farmer, urged the government to adopt all recommendations.

“The physical and mental health of the community has suffered greatly since the coal mine fire; we need quick action from the Victorian government,” she said.

“A key part of a health innovation zone, in our opinion, would be lowering the ongoing pollution levels in the Latrobe Valley. Incredibly important in this is sparing no cost to safety rehabilitate the mine areas so they are safe from fires.”

Voices of the Valley will host a community meeting to look over the recommendations of the inquiry reports this Thursday from 7pm at the Morwell Bowls Club.

Morwell MLA Russell Northe said Friday’s response built on work of the Liberal-Nationals government to ensure the Latrobe Valley did not experience a similar fire again.

“The health, safety and wellbeing of Latrobe Valley residents and workers must always be the number one priority,” he said.

“This issue is above political point-scoring it’s about ensuring our community does not have to endure another incident like this in the future.”

Greens energy spokesperson Ellen Sandell welcomed the recommendations to begin mine rehabilitation, but said the process needed to be fast-tracked.

“The final report recognises that Victoria’s coal plants and mines will close, that’s just a fact,” she said.

“We’re very pleased that it recommends a trust fund for the community of the Latrobe Valley and an authority to oversee mine rehabilitation, both of which the Greens have been calling for.

“Everyone can see that the era of coal is over, but unfortunately we still have no plan from Labor to get Victoria out of the dirty coal industry.”

Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said increasing rehabilitation bonds would reduce the risk to Victorian taxpayers and the environment.