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Wednesday, 8 May 1985
Page: 1572


Senator HARRADINE(7.12) —I will not delay the Senate for long. I do not make a habit of speaking on the adjournment but the matter I raise tonight is very important. It affects a significant number of people in the Bridgewater to New Norfolk area of Tasmania who are suffering loss and damage as a result of the spraying of grass adjacent to railway lines between Bridgewater and New Norfolk. The sprays that are being used are highly toxic and have led to fruit trees and vegetable gardens being destroyed and grass being severely affected. I was recently alerted to this matter, and on 2 May I wrote to Australian National Railways referring to the fact that six weeks ago a resident of Bridgewater had asked Australian National what spray was used and what are the effects of such sprays on edible vegetation. Australian National was well aware that some three years ago certain herbicides were used as sprays and certain pellets were laid, causing damage to vegetation in Bridgewater and damage to vegetation in areas as far up as New Norfolk, as well as damage to property. The damage includes the destruction of fruit trees, including nectarines, apples, peach and native trees, plus areas of grass and shrubs and indeed vegetable gardens. Several trees died early this year and had to be cut down by the residents, but others are still standing and show evidence of the continuing effects of the herbicides.

I will not go into all the details, which are available should the Minister desire them from me, but I am informed that one of the herbicides was bromacil. Bromacil is described as a residual which at high rates becomes a soil sterilant. It has some contact action and is selective at low rates. It has a slow killing action and relies on heavy applications of water and good soil moisture levels to carry the chemical to the root zone where uptake occurs. It is non-volatile and non-corrosive and contact action is improved by the addition of wetting agent. I refer to the recommendations contained in the Canegrowers' Quarterly Bulletin of January 1977. It says that it should not be used near wanted trees or ornamentals as their roots may pick up the chemical. It is a hazard to all plants but has a low toxicity to mammals. A journal called Australian Agriculture gives another of the herbicides, diuron, a No. 3 rating, which is for a persistent hazard. That chemical or herbicide is quoted as being persistent in soil with some movement in soil water.

The point about which the residents are concerned is that seepage of the mobile herbicides will continue and damage will increase; that vegetables and fruit could possibly be unsuitable for human consumption; that a simple inquiry made by them to a government department, namely Australian National, concerning damage to their property, at least six weeks ago in one case and by word of mouth previously, has been ignored and not adequately dealt with; and that Australian National has decided simply to send a representative from one of the herbicide companies from Melbourne to Tasmania to deal with the question. I believe that this matter should now be dealt with at ministerial level since satisfaction has not been obtained through Australian National.

Some other questions should be raised. What precisely were the herbicides and pellets? Another suggestion is that another herbicide called hexazinone was used. When was the herbicide used, and where? It is believed to have been used at least from Bridgewater to New Norfolk. What complaints have been raised and what action has been taken in respect of those complaints? Finally, can the Government give an assurance that Australian National will recompense those residents of Bridgewater and other residents affected for the loss that has been incurred?.