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Thursday, 11 September 2003
Page: 19920

Ms HOARE (4:49 PM) —Tomorrow, 12 September, will mark an end of an era in my electorate of Charlton. Tomorrow is the day when the smoke will cease to rise from the stacks of the Pasminco Cockle Creek smelter and 350 workers will find themselves out of a job. The smelter commenced operations in 1897, 106 years ago. In 1991 Hunter Health conducted a survey which revealed widespread soil and dust contamination and high blood lead levels among the local children. It is the effects of lead emissions which have concerned parents living in the area most over the past decade. Children are the most susceptible to the impact of lead in brain development. High blood lead levels are also associated with behavioural and other health problems.

When regular lead in blood testing began in the children of Boolaroo, Argenton and Speers Point in 1991, the average in children under 13 was 14 micrograms per decilitre. Following intense environmental and education campaigns, the average blood lead level over the past 12 months has been 8.6 micrograms per decilitre. Hunter Health's summary of results from the last 12 months indicate that children under five have approximately two to three times the blood lead level of children in New South Wales from non-affected lead communities, and that children from Boolaroo, closest to the smelter, continue to have higher levels of blood lead than those in neighbouring suburbs. The community has suffered with health and environmental problems from a century of lead contamination. This has also affected Lake Macquarie. It will be an ongoing effort by the community and local, state and federal governments to ensure that Pasminco completely and thoroughly remediates the land and the water surrounding the plant so our towns and communities and possible future developments are not exposed to potential future health risks.

Last year Pasminco announced the Cockle Creek smelter was expected to be closed somewhere between 2006 and 2008. The reasons given for the early announcement were to ensure that all involved could plan well in advance for the closure's ultimate impact and to enable Pasminco to meet its responsibilities to the community and the environment. Unfortunately, for the workers, the community and the environment, which were to have this long-term planning, Pasminco announced in March this year that the closure had been brought forward to September 2003. So much for Pasminco's sensitivity to the longer term prospects of the workers and the environment.

At this time the workers—represented by the AMWU, the AWU and the ETU—and representatives of management formed a transitional committee. This committee has been working tirelessly over the last six months to try to make the closure less difficult for employees. Pasminco has employed the services of Pathways to look at training and outposting services. TAFE is also being paid to look at `prior learning' for employees. However, Pasminco has only agreed to fund this program until 31 October this year. We are all very aware of the very great need to provide urgent assistance in retraining and redeployment following the closure of the plant. I have recently appealed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, with a submission from the transitional committee, requesting funding for an innovative project under the new Employment Innovation Fund. I understand the formal application is now in the process of being submitted.

Many of the workers who will find themselves unemployed following tomorrow's closure will be like many others around the country: middle aged, well skilled and without any access to unemployment benefits because of their entitlements, thus without any access to retraining or intensive assistance through the Job Network. We are asking the government to provide, through the new Employment Innovation Fund, $60,000 to enable Pathways to provide the retraining, reskilling and intensive assistance that these people need now, so they will not have to wait until they are unemployed for 12 months or more. That will prove that, if a retrenched worker is immediately assisted, that worker will have more chances of going into full-time employment quicker. I wish all the Pasminco employees the best of luck and I undertake to provide whatever support I can to them. I would like to conclude with one of the Short Takes published in the Newcastle Herald this morning from a strong and long advocate of our community of Boolaroo. Don Whiteman wrote:

Boolaroo people will see out the demise of Pasminco with mixed feelings, a century of industry having brought employment, development and people together with the debatable effects of pollution and resultant stigma on the community. Pasminco employees will now join the jobs battle. The stigma is already in decline, with houses selling well, the school full of happy eager youngsters and new business arriving. Life goes on.