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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4258

Senator BARTLETT (Queensland) (19:55): I'd like to speak tonight about per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, most commonly known as PFAS. They are used in a variety of ways but most commonly, particularly historically, in firefighting foam. The consequences of the way PFAS has got into land and water in so many sites around Australia have been devastating for a number of communities, particularly for a number of communities in my own state of Queensland.

There are currently a range of inquiries or investigations in sites in Queensland about the historical use of PFAS, including Army Aviation Centre Oakey, west of Toowoomba, which is perhaps the most widely known; various Department of Defence sites; Airservices Australia sites; Queensland Fire and Emergency Services sites; Svensson Heights at Bundaberg; sites around Ayr; Queensland port sites; Brisbane Airport; and a Narangba facility. When I speak of Department of Defence sites, I might mention that I put a question on notice to the minister not long after I came back into this place, checking if that included the site at Shoalwater Bay, where military exercises frequently happened. The response came back that, no, it doesn't.

I spoke with somebody in Yeppoon not long ago, near that area. It's anecdotal but, nonetheless, they were someone who was in a position to know. I asked them if it was likely to have been used there at all. They said, 'No, probably not, but National Parks used it all the time for fires in Byfield National Park, which surrounds the area.' This makes the point that it isn't just a Department of Defence issue. PFAS has been widely used by a number of organisations, but it is very transferrable underground, particularly into waterways. We're looking at Brisbane Airport. As most people here would know, as they use airports a lot, Brisbane Airport is on the shores of Moreton Bay and bounded by the Brisbane River and Kedron Brook. So any leakage into waterways can have significant impact.

There have been some community consultations, it is true, but there has been no resolution. If we're talking about the community of Oakey, for example, it's now been three years. There are plenty of people, including scientists, who will say, 'We're unsure about the health impacts.' Of course, scientists need to be cautious before they can be definitive. But one thing you can be definitive about is that it is already having a very direct impact on the livelihoods, the economies, the health and the futures of a whole range of individuals in Oakey and elsewhere.

The fact is that this chemical, PFAS, has been banned in Queensland since July 2016 and is now being phased out. In early 2017 a voluntary industry survey was undertaken to determine the status of foam stocks throughout the state. Even though it was banned in 2016, we've seen recent media reports that RAAF Base Amberley in Ipswich, just west of Brisbane, has been dumping sludge full of PFAS just 30 metres from a waterway—Warrill Creek—flowing to the Bremer River near Amberley. Now we have Queensland Health warning locals not to eat fish caught in that area because they've been poisoned by PFAS-contaminated sludge dumped, pretty much, right on the banks of those waterways by the Department of Defence or people employed or contracted by the Department of Defence. Defence didn't inform the community. They informed Queensland Health, but it took a long time for the wider community to be told about this.

An article in the Brisbane Times by Toby Crockford on 15 June detailed this. Earlier this month, articles in The Australian, by Rory Callinan and Michael McKenna, talked about this contaminated mud being shifted off the Amberley air base during the period from late 2016 to mid-2017. This is after it had been banned and after it was well known that this was a potentially significant problem.

We have farmers being told—for example, near Esso's Longford gas plant and RAAF Base East Sale in Gippsland, Victoria—not to eat meat from their own properties. But they can still sell it. Try selling that. Try selling product where you tell people, 'I'm not allowed to eat it this. But here, buy it yourself.' Try selling your land. The people around Oakey and elsewhere have been suffering for three years. There's now a class action that's had to be taken to try to get a resolution. Have all your investigations, but the people are suffering now and they have been suffering for years. You cannot say that there is any doubt that they are suffering massive economic harm as a direct result of this. They should be able to be compensated, rather than continue to be drawn through more and more uncertainty and more and more inquiries.

Senate adjourned at 20:00