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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9642

Defence Facilities: Contamination

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (14:51): My question is to the Minister for Defence, Senator Payne. I refer the minister to an article in today's Newcastle Herald, titled 'Defence blocks access'. The article reports that Defence has repeatedly refused the New South Wales Environment Protection Authority access to the contaminated RAAF Base Williamtown. The media report also states that Defence has ignored repeated requests for information pertaining to control of chemicals exiting the base and contaminating the surrounding environment. Minister, will you direct Defence to allow the EPA access to RAAF Base Williamtown so that the leaking contamination can be controlled and the local community protected?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:52): I thank Senator McAllister for her question. In fact, when the EPA requested access to the Williamtown RAAF base to undertake a site inspection, in addition to that request they asked some very specific questions which Defence wanted to be able to provide a response to them on before the visit was made. That information, I understand, is now ready to be given to the New South Wales EPA, and the visit will be organised in the near future. The issues were around aspects of soil containment—as opposed to contamination—in this case.

The EPA in New South Wales does not usually as a normal practice inspect Commonwealth property, but Defence does intend to allow for this inspection to occur. We are endeavouring to ensure that they are as well informed as they can possibly be of the operations of RAAF Base Williamtown and its practices before that site inspection occurs.

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The New South Wales Premier, Mike Baird, met with local residents yesterday and expressed serious concerns regarding the handling of the issue, which he promised to take up directly with the Minister for Defence. Has Premier Baird contacted you regarding his concerns with Defence's handling of the RAAF Base Williamtown contamination issue?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:53): No.

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Premier Baird also said that he was 'very disappointed in the progress' and that the excuses given to the affected communities do not wash with him. Do you agree with Premier Baird that Defence's handling of this issue is not good enough?

Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Defence) (14:53): No, I do not agree with the Premier, and I am also quite disappointed that Defence was not invited to participate in the reference group meeting yesterday as would normally be the case.