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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5611

Mr OAKESHOTT (9:42 AM) —I rise to talk about an issue of policy significance, potentially one of what I consider to be the major legal, moral and political policy challenges for both the state and federal governments right now. As part of the New South Wales redistribution, the seat of Lyne has expanded to include the Upper Hunter Valley community of the Gloucester Basin. As I get to know that community I have found it is largely divided on the streets over the issue of mining expansion into the Gloucester Basin. There are some who want to see economic growth and are strong advocates for mining expansion and some who are genuinely concerned about the loss of food production areas, and there are also concerns around the health of the community.

It was in that context that I wrote to the Hunter New England Health Service and the local division of GPs to seek some advice on the health implications of mining expansion in the Upper Hunter. I also note Four Corners has done a show on the Singleton community, and there have been various examples outside the electorate of Lyne where news stories have presented this issue in a similar light with regard to air and water quality and the implications for health. Last week I received a response from the New South Wales health minister. The following quote from that letter should be of concern to every single member in this place, in particular in light of current debates. It says: ‘The New South Wales government has this week confirmed there are higher than average rates of some conditions such as respiratory and cardiovascular problems in the region as a whole.’

Whilst no-one, including the New South Wales government, is yet willing to draw a direct link to mining activity—and they are wanting to do some further population health studies such as smoking prevalence—as a local member I can pretty well make that link myself, that we do have an issue. I would be highly surprised if there were more smokers in the Upper Hunter than anywhere else in Australia. Therefore, the question for all governments that we now face is this conflict issue: what comes first, money or people and how do we manage that going forward? Currently, we have a genuine health concern in the Upper Hunter, in communities such as Singleton, Lithgow and now in the electorate of Lyne, about mining expansion into the Gloucester Basin. This is not only a food security issue anymore; it is also a population health issue that needs to be addressed. (Time expired)