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Wednesday, 31 October 2012
Page: 8635

Health: Coalmining


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:22): My question is to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Is the minister aware of the report Health and social harms of coal mining in local communities: spotlight on the Hunter released yesterday which found that adults in coalmining communities had higher rates of mortality from lung cancer and chronic heart, respiratory and kidney diseases and that children and infants had high levels of heavy metal in their blood and increased respiratory symptoms? If so, does the government acknowledge that coalmining, and the particulate matter generated from it in particular, is harmful to the health of local communities, particularly those communities in the Hunter Valley, which has 30, mostly open-cut, coalmines and six coal fired power stations?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:23): I thank Senator Milne for her continued interest in rural Australia. The Gillard government is delivering better health outcomes for Australians who live in rural and regional Australia, particularly those who live in the Hunter Valley, particularly those who do suffer from diseases. In 2012 targeted rural, regional and remote health and ageing programs will exceed $2.1 billion in addition to significant funding provided to rural communities through the medical benefits schedule, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the national health agreement. If you look at the funding overall by this government in rural Australia, you can see that it represents an increase of almost 350 per cent for rural programs compared to the last year of the Howard government.

Senator Milne: Mr President, I raise a point of order. I asked specifically about the report Health and social harms of coal mining in local communities: spotlight on the Hunter and the minister has yet to even refer to the report.

The PRESIDENT: I do draw the minister's attention to the question. The minister has one minute remaining.

Senator LUDWIG: I was then going to go on to say in the context of the support we provide for rural Australia that that particular report I do not have a brief on. It is a matter that the government would take seriously. The information that has been provided about that report does not tell me who released it. It was released yesterday. It does not tell me who prepared it, how it was prepared and what the use of it was, whether it is a state or federal issue. All of those things I am sure I will be able to take on notice and provide a response to, Senator Milne. It would be helpful for the minister if she were provided with that additional information—if it remains a matter within the health portfolio for her to respond to.





Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:25): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for indicating that the government would take it seriously and I will provide the report to the government. Given the evidence presented from Australia and around the world on the damage to health and social wellbeing of communities living near coalmines, does the government agree that it is a matter of urgency to conduct a full-scale study on the impacts of coalmining on people's health, and will it commit to considering measures such as monitoring and enforcement of maximum particulates and buffer zones in the interests of the people living in coal communities?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:26): I thank Senator Milne for her first supplementary question. As I was indicating, it still does not give me any confidence about who provided the report, who wrote the report and where the report is directed to; whether it was a state instrumentality, a government instrumentality or alternatively from private industry or private medical practitioners in the field. Notwithstanding that, I indicated that I would take that first question on notice. I will take the supplementary question on notice too. I do reject the premise of the question, however. The minister for health takes all of her portfolio very seriously about ensuring better health for Australians more broadly and the outcomes for workers, particularly if there are issues around safe work practices, occupational health and safety. That is why we have Safe Work Australia. That is why this federal government has done a significant amount of work in ensuring the occupational health and safety of workers and communities. (Time expired)


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:27): Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri is the lead author and she is from Sydney University. My further supplementary question is, can the minister confirm that COAG was told in 2010 that if particulate matter was better regulated $4.5 million per year would be avoided in hospital admissions and 1,200 lives prolonged? If that is the case, and I ask the minister to confirm it, why are the government and COAG taking so long to update the National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure legislation?


Senator LUDWIG (QueenslandMinister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister Assisting on Queensland Floods Recovery) (14:28): I thank Senator Milne for her second supplementary question. It is something I could not confirm. Clearly I am representing the health minister and this is something that was a specific COAG issue raised in 2010. I cannot confirm or deny what the veracity of that is. I am always cautious, however. It is a matter that I will take on notice. I will ask the health minister to have a look at the particular question that has been raised and provide an appropriate answer in response to it.