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Monday, 16 October 2017
Page: 10721


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (19:50): I commend the member for Maranoa for his brave speech this evening. It is really quite synchronistic that he spoke about cancer and that he spoke about unfinished business, because in the last 15 years, along a five-kilometre stretch of rural road—we're not talking about a heavily populated or densely populated area—over 50 people in my electorate have passed away from cancer, and we're in the throes of investigating why that is so.

I rise again to speak about the plight of the people of Williamtown and surrounds—people whose lives have been turned upside down by a toxic legacy unleashed by the department that is charged with their very defence; people who were not informed of known risks and unwittingly remained in the path of a biopersistent chemical that contaminated their very bodies. Not one more day should pass before we hear of the plan that has been spoken of by Senator James McGrath, on behalf of the Prime Minister, for an out for these people of Williamtown; the people of Oakey, and I note the member for Groom in the chamber this evening and I thank him for his friendship and bipartisanship on this issue; and, also, the people of Katherine.

The people in the red zone in my electorate of Paterson are angry, as am I. To be blunt, they feel completely done over by their own government. It is a national disgrace, as was so graphically portrayed on Four Corners last Monday night. Defence has admitted it should have acted three years earlier, at least, to notify my community of the danger of these chemicals. I strongly condemn that delay.

I also condemn Defence's cavalier attitude towards the use of this chemical throughout the 1980s and 1990s, when they were specifically warned not to pour it onto open earth—that it did run the risk of contaminating waterways. They knew. They had manufacturers' warnings about this. However, it was not treated with the respect it should have been treated with. How different the situation that we find ourselves in today might be if they had heeded the warnings. The danger was well known, and Defence showed total disregard for it.

I have been fighting for the people of Williamtown since my first day in this place and, to be honest with you, even before I was elected. Let me tell you, it is tough going for my community.

Senator James McGrath is the head of the prime ministerial PFAS Taskforce. I am hoping that he is going to cabinet very shortly, and I am hoping that the cabinet of this government, of this country, pays heed to what he says. We need to do something for these people, beyond wringing our hands and saying, 'Yes, it's terrible.' Seriously! You are the government, and I am reaching out to you, saying, 'Come on; let's do something. Let's put this shameful wrong to rights.' I wrote an open letter to the senator, spelling out my outrage and disgust, and I urge my constituents to do the same.

The Newcastle Herald this week published a letter from Cain Gorfine of the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group; Nick Marshall, who was featured on the ABC the other night because he owns his home and his property outright but couldn't get a $20,000 loan to renovate his kitchen—just think about that—of Salt Ash Community First group; and Mr Lindsay Clout of the Fullerton Cove Residents Action Group. These gentleman made a simple yet heartfelt plea to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull; to Marise Payne, the defence minister; and to James McGrath. Their request: 'Fix this mess and let us get on with our lives.'

The Williamtown community is heartsick from what they have been through, but more to the point they're heartsick by the inaction. To quote their letter to the government and Defence, 'Your handling of this crisis has betrayed public trust.' And what a betrayal! Let us not forget that Defence had known for years, even decades, of the dangers of these chemicals as biopersistent substances. They knew that PFAS had the potential to leak into our waterways, and now it has. My community have earth that's contaminated, water that's contaminated, bodies that are contaminated and babies that are contaminated. (Time expired)