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Environment and Communications References Committee
23/02/2017
Construction of the Perth Freight Link

BRYANT, Mr Bob, Private capacity

CORKE, Miss Georgiana Phoebe, Member, Wetland Watchers

DRAVNIEKS, Mrs Kim, Coordinator, Rethink the Link

JOSKE, Mr Andrew, Member, Wetland Watchers

KELLY, Ms Katharine, Convenor, Save Beeliar Wetlands

WRIGHT, Ms Alison, Coordinator, Coolbellup Concerned Residents

Committee met at 11:29

CHAIR ( Senator Whish-Wilson ): I declare open this public hearing of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee in relation to its inquiry into the continuation of construction of the Perth Freight Link in the face of significant environmental breaches. This is a public hearing and a Hansard transcript of the proceedings is being made. Before the committee starts taking evidence, I remind all witnesses that in giving evidence to the committee they are protected by parliamentary privilege. It is unlawful for anyone to threaten or disadvantage a witness on account of evidence given to a committee, and any such action may be treated by the Senate as a contempt. It is also contempt to give false or misleading evidence to a committee.

The committee prefers all evidence to be given in public, but under the Senate's resolutions witnesses have the right to request to be heard in private session. It is important that witnesses give the committee notice if they intend to ask to give evidence in camera. In addition, if the committee has reason to believe that evidence about to be given may adversely reflect on a person, the committee may also direct that the evidence be heard in private session.

If a witness objects to answering a question, the witness should state the ground upon which the objection is taken and the committee will determine whether it will insist on an answer, having regard to the ground which is claimed. If the committee determines to insist on an answer, a witness may request that the answer be given in camera. Such a request may of course also be made at any other time.

I would also say that, as this is a hearing of the Senate, as much as you might like to, it is disorderly to clap or cheer or use props in the room. On behalf of the committee, I thank all of those who made submissions and have sent representatives here today for their cooperation with this inquiry.

I welcome representatives of Coolbellup Concerned Residents, Rethink the Link campaign, Save Beeliar Wetlands and Wetland Watchers. I welcome also Mr Bob Bryant. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. I will invite you to make a brief opening statement. Just be aware that we have an hour scheduled. I may be able to push that back slightly, but the longer you take for your opening statements the less chance we are going to have to ask questions and get into detail. If you could limit your statement to an absolute maximum of five minutes each, that would be helpful for the committee. Would you like to go first, Bob?

Mr Bryant : Yes. I am a retired technical specialist in occupational health and safety and a safety coach. I have had 37 years of experience in occupational safety and health. There are probably two main issues that I want to talk about today. One is the lack of attention to detail during the approval process and the subsequent handling and clean-up of asbestos and the failure to comply with the state's safety laws. The other one is about the emissions of diesel particulates once the highway gets operational, and the disregard for that and the flawed numbers that were used to calculate the traffic movements on that road once it is operational.

Ms Wright : I would like to start with a statement from a fellow Coolbellup resident, because I am only here as a voice for them. Wanda says: 'I have been able to do little more than wring my hands and feel miserable and angry. This group'—the Coolbellup Concerned Residents—'has given these feelings direction and made me feel like I can breathe—maybe even remain living in the suburb I love so much that I thought I would never leave.'

The Coolbellup Concerned Residents come from all walks of life. There are mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles, photographers, palliative nurses, accountants, local business owners, psychologists, stockbrokers, admin assistants and osteopaths. In early December there were about 20 of us who formed a loose coalition of Coolbellup residents who were concerned about what was going on in our neighbourhood. Today we have about 150 people from Coolbellup and surrounding suburbs who meet regularly to address the issues that we have with what is going on in our front yards.

Our main concerns are that our health and wellbeing are not being protected. While the vast majority, if not all of us, oppose Roe 8, our focus has really been on the real and disturbing activities that have been happening, in some cases less than 50 metres from our doorstep.

We have been involuntary witnesses to what appears to be a slapdash approach to this project. We have not been consulted and have rarely been informed of impending construction activities, an issue for those of us who operate businesses from our homes or those of us with asthma or young children with sensitive respiratory conditions. It is a real concern. We have witnessed bulldozers tearing through the bush and then uncovering dumped asbestos materials. We are left wondering whether there was any missed asbestos left in the giant piles of mulch. We have requested and requested support from government agencies and we are still left wondering. We have voluntarily conducted asbestos surveys, tested these samples and found that 85 per cent of the samples were asbestos. From our cursory survey conducted by citizens, we have identified more than 100 pieces throughout the Roe 8 site, and yet the clearing has continued.

We have seen our pools and our homes covered with films of dust. We have not been able to turn our eyes from the constant presence of police, security and daily destruction. A section of the Roe 8 was registered as a contaminated site in early December, and bulldozing continued. The investigation into whether or not this was a contaminated site continued. Only recently did I learn that the site was declared not contaminated, but meanwhile the levels of anxiety, worry and concern of local residents seeing this happen in front of their eyes grew and grew so that now the concerns that face Coolbellup residents include our mental health and wellbeing and how we are going to manage that in the future. We are also faced with the very real prospect that the noise emanating from the road, should it be built, will be unacceptable and contribute further to our negative health and wellbeing—not to mention the value of our properties.

Miss Corke : I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land we are speaking on, the Wadjuk people. I am speaking here on behalf of the team of wetland watchers who have now spent over two months attempting to ensure that the contractors comply with the fauna management plan and the construction environmental management plan. Every day we watch, and nearly every day I send an email to both the EPA and to the federal Minister for the Environment and Energy, who claimed on 15 February that neither he nor his department has received any reports of breaches on site. These emails contain photos that outline the breaches we have just observed and that try to prevent further breaches occurring. There have been 20 emails so far and about 50 breaches reported. To date, there has been one response from the EPA less than two pages long—one eight-paragraph letter—responding to around 125 pages of emails.

Soon after the construction fences went up in early December, we became increasingly concerned about practices on site. We saw the constructors and tractors doing things that we could not believe to be compliant with the EPA approvals, so we started investigating. We are now a well-organised team with well-established daily routines and reporting methods. We can now quote parts of the FMP and the CEMP verbatim. We are familiar with DPaW's standard operating procedures and we have spent hours talking to fauna-trapping and translocation experts, as well as watching the site.

In an earlier conversation, an RSPCA inspector told me that in heavy rain traps must be closed or animals will drown. Table 7 of the FMP states:

in periods large volumes of rain traps will be closed after checking and reopened in the late afternoon to avoid capturing and drowning due to flooding

As far as I am aware, it does not only rain in the daytime in Western Australia and animals are just as likely to drown at night-time as during the day. This was just the first of many inconsistencies and confusions we found within the management plans. The compliance division of the EPA admitted as much to me in a telephone conversation on 11 January regarding an inconsistency between section 423 and table 7 of the FMP that I had raised with him. He told me that it took him 'hours to work out', was 'bloody confusing' and that the plans were 'really badly written', and those are direct quotes.

The first, most obvious signs of noncompliance were with dust management. According to table 6 of the CEMP, water carts are to be operational at all times in dry and windy conditions. Throughout the clearing, if a cart has actually been on site, it has rarely been used and never effectively. We have already talked about asbestos. We have photographs of bandicoots being removed from the site hours before clearing commenced, despite the FMP requiring two clear nights before clearing starts. We are seeing consistently poor trapping practices, confirmed by trapping experts, one of whom described the trapping process as 'tokenism', and, to ensure a clear night, we have seen bandicoot traps removed from the area the night before clearing is scheduled. I have a document here from one of our watchers, who is a postgraduate ecologist. It is a 19-page document illustrating the poor trapping methods which I would like leave to table.

CHAIR: We will have a look at it, and the committee will decide whether to accept it as evidence. Thank you.

Miss Corke : Thank you. We have seen an area cleared after two days and nights of heavy rain where no trapping should have occurred and where we know they caught the morning before the rain started, so no two clear nights. We have seen a bulldozer pierce a barrel of unidentified liquid that started pouring onto the ground, yet clearing continued in contravention of section 245 of the CEMP. We have seen workers, utes, police cars and horses, a cherry-picker, a water truck and a bulldozer drive between uninterpretable and unaffected sections of the site without any form of hygiene or wash down procedures, in contravention of dieback protocols in table 10 of the CEMP. All of these breaches of compliance and more have been reported to the EPA and the federal minister for the environment and all of them have either been ignored or dismissed in the eight-paragraph letter. Thank you for your time.

Mr Joske : I do not have a lot to add to what Phoebe has just spoken about, but I will say that I am here today as a community member who has been on site a the project nearly daily and, as such, to provide the committee with an eyewitness account of significant environmental breaches. As part of the Wetland Watchers group, I have witnessed many of the 50 compliance breaches referred to by Phoebe Corke. I have been on the ground, observing the actions of trapper and other contractors on an almost daily basis both in the mornings from 5 am and in the afternoons since early January.

Our role as watchers has been to observe, to document and to photograph the activities of various contractors. When needed, we have deferred to experts as to whether or not these activities are compliant with the FMP and with the CEMP, although most of the breaches have been glaringly obvious to all on site. Much of the time, our role has been banal and exhausting, but the wilful refusal by the EPA to engage with evidence of compliance breaches has really only furthered our concern and our commitment. Thank you.

Mrs Dravnieks : Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee on this very important issue. I am speaking on behalf of Rethink the Link, an organisation that was formed in 2015 by community members in response to the announcement of the Perth Freight Link, a project that was developed without reference to any state strategic plans and without public consultation. We are very concerned that no attempt has been made to keep the local community informed about the project or its impacts even though there have been repeated requests for update. We assisted the organisation of nine free public forums and invited Main Roads and the Minister for Transport to attend, which they declined each time. Instead we heard that they presented their PR spin to business forums only.

Since the start of the destruction of the Beeliar Wetlands and the Coolbellup bushland in December 2016, our organisation has doubled from over 5,000 to 10,000 members. This demonstrates the depth of feeling and knowledge that this project is only proceeding for political reasons rather than sound economic, social or environmental justification. For two years we have been calling for transparency and accountability from both the Western Australian Barnett Liberal government and the Abbott-Turnbull federal government.

We still do not have evidence of a business case for the Perth Freight Link, even though this would be the most expensive section of road ever built in WA history and should have had thorough public scrutiny. Only now, just days before a state election, have we finally received documents to examine that were fought for through the Freedom of Information Commissioner and the arbitration tribunal. These documents show the extreme haste with which this project was put together and the disregard for due process.

We also understand that the Roe 8 section of the Perth Freight Link is being constructed using scant state funds at a time when the budget is in huge deficit. The federal allocation of funds for the project, which is $1.2 billion, cannot be released to the state until the final project proposal report for the stage to East Fremantle is considered by the Department of Regional Development. The Premier has said that this would happen some time after the state election.

This also begs the question: why was the project not delayed until after the election and why did it not have the next stage design finalised so the federal funds could have been accessed for both stages? This would not only have been prudent for the state budget but also would then have seen the extravagant waste of our tax dollars paying for the massive police presence on the project.

With this knowledge, we query why the Roe 8 project has been pushed through with such unseemly haste and little regard not only for endangered species in the wetlands and the woodland but also for the local community, which has been devastated by the destruction and has been covered in wood dust, now causing health issues, and asbestos dust that might take decades to know the impact from. Thank you.

Ms Kelly : Thank you for giving us this important opportunity. I am the convenor of Save Beeliar Wetlands. I would like to pay my respects to elders past and present and acknowledge that we are on Noongar land. The wetlands and woodlands are very special places for our Noongar friends, and we stand by them and with them as they grieve and fight for their land.

There are members of our group who have been trying to save the Beeliar Wetlands, which lie between the Kwinana Freeway in the east and Stock Road in the west, for more than 30 years. In the year 2000 Liberal state planning minister Graham Kierath said that North Lake and Bibra Lake would be permanently protected because they were a key piece of Perth's natural heritage that should be preserved for future generations. In 2003 the EPA said that there would be no way that a road through the Beeliar Wetlands could be made environmentally acceptable. In 2007 the Roe 8 reserve was close to being taken off the Metropolitan Region Scheme altogether, but in 2008 the current Barnett government came to power with an election promise to build Roe 8. In 2009 the project was referred again to the EPA.

Since then our group has concentrated on holding the government to account. We have written submissions, letters and appeals, held countless events and rallies and raised funds and awareness. That job was made so much easier for us by the sudden announcement of the Perth Freight Link, a supersized Roe 8 which has become notorious in our community for not having a settled route, a proper business case or actually even getting to its supposed destination, falling three kilometres short of the actual port.

Finally, in 2015 we incorporated and began legal action to contest the environmental approvals on Roe 8. What we discovered in this process has made us even more determined to bring accountability and the poor decision-making processes on Roe 8 to light. We found out that the EPA very early on decided that it was going to grant approval for Roe 8, something they did not inform the public or us about. What they decided shaped everything which came after. However, that was not revealed to us or the general public for many years.

They decided at the very beginning of their assessment process, rather than at the conclusion or after a well-considered review of the project's merits, that they were going to be able to make Roe 8 acceptable by using offsets. A strong argument can be made about the lack of rationale for offsets ever being able to balance the amount of destruction caused by such a project. However, even if you accept that offsets are a valid way of making amends for the destruction of, in the case of the Beeliar wetlands, 97.8 hectares of woodlands and wetlands, including more than 80 hectares of banksia woodlands, the purchased offsets in this case do not even come near to supplying what is needed in terms of the foraging habitat for the endangered and threatened species like the Carnaby's and forest red-tailed cockatoos.

In effect, what this shows is that, right from the beginning, the decision of the EPA was wholly influenced and captured by the state government's directions on this matter. This supposedly independent agency did not even give itself the benefit of the doubt in terms of following its own guidelines and policies. In the end, as the legal process showed, the state enabled this once much prouder and better funded agency to allow itself to slip into a place from where it was unable to function in its proper purpose: being an environmental protection agency.

Our legal action to contest the environmental approvals on Roe 8 took place at the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal in the Supreme Court, the High Court special leave hearing and the Federal Court. Whilst we did not receive an interlocutory injunction to halt Roe 8 at the Federal Court, Judge Siopis named the federal minister of the environment as the person who best could address the lack of compliance with conditions. That was only earlier this year.

On Friday, 16 December last year, we heard that our application for special leave in the High Court to contest the decision of the Court of Appeals had failed. The following Monday, the bulldozers moved into the Coolbellup woodlands and destroyed about five hectares over 19 and 20 December 2016. We watched in horror as the beautiful orchids, banksias, bandicoots, little skinks, tall jarrah trees, little sedges, bushes and grass trees alike were violently pushed together and then piled up for mulching. There was no translocation of any trees. Many of us saw bandicoots running and birds fleeing trees as they were toppled. We knew there was lots of dumped asbestos in the area and, because of the lack of water trucks and lack of any wetting down, huge plumes of dangerous dust rose in the air and drifted over homes. That night and even whilst we washed the dust and tears and anger off our bodies and clothes, many of us were wondering how the construction contractors could be getting away with such blatant shows of noncompliance. At this stage the environmental management plans had been published for a scant two weeks.

On 20 December, the second day of clearing, we sent our first letter to Mr Kim Taylor from the EPA and other agency heads calling for Roe 8 to be halted whilst the issues with noncompliance were investigated. That letter was 22 pages long.

CHAIR: Ms Kelly, could I just ask how much longer you have to go?

Ms Kelly : Just a minute.

CHAIR: Okay, you have a minute.

Ms Kelly : We have still not received a letter in reply from the EPA, although later we did receive a letter from Minister Frydenberg which names the EPA as the only agency responsible for compliance issues. In the beginning, the opinions of scientists and fauna experts whom we worked with to understand the stated protocols versus industry best practice, as laid out in the environmental management plans, told us that their plans showed a lack of skill and expert advice in their construction. We believed that it may have been speed and a lack of skills in the authorship of those plans which were driving the noncompliance at that early stage. However, in the 66 days since the clearing started and in the lack of response to the many hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from ordinary people, conservationists, fauna experts, politicians and advocates to state and federal compliance agencies and the relevant ministers, we have started to form the view that the ministerial conditions and the environmental management plans were purposely made to enable destruction without proper regard to normal processes and protections that, for example, any other industry proponent would have had to follow to proceed.

I end my statement by suggesting to this committee that, if any other proponent from industry carried on in a similar fashion, this project would have been shut down within days of its commencement. Given the proximity to the state election where a change of government will shelve this project, many in the community strongly question the need for bulldozing such an important spiritual, ecological and community place of great beauty with such an unnecessary amount of haste and proper oversight.

CHAIR: Thank you, Ms Kelly, and thank you all for your opening statements. I will just let the witnesses know that the committee did invite various government departments, including the EPA, but they declined to appear today on the basis that they are in a caretaker period going into the election. I will now hand over to Senator Ludlam to ask the first questions.

Senator LUDLAM: Thanks for joining us and thank you in particular for the evidence that you have put to us. The evidence from the Wetland Watchers and others who have just made opening statements was the trigger for this inquiry to take place. Without the evidence that you and your volunteers spent weeks and weeks amassing, this inquiry would not have been convened. You have given us a bit of a cross-section of some of the breaches that you have observed. It is a bit hard to know where to start, isn't it? Let's start with compliance. There are the conditions that have been set out by the state and by the federal government. We have been told that there are compliance officers on site every day. Miss Corke, maybe on behalf of the Watchers, have you or your team spoken to or witnessed compliance officers on site?

Miss Corke : We have not. That said, they are not wearing great big badges saying, 'I'm a compliance officer.' To our knowledge, no.

Senator LUDLAM: One of the conditions that was meant to have been respected was surveys of black cockatoo nesting—that is, trees that are appropriate for cockatoo nests—and we understand, or the government has told us, that those surveys were all completed on 14 December. Would you or any members of your team have been on site that day?

Miss Corke : We were.

Senator LUDLAM: Did you witness any surveys being done?

Miss Corke : We did not. If I could add to that answer, the majority of the trees which would be suitable for nesting hollows are extremely tall and have bush around them. In order for them to be inspected, you would need to bring in a cherry picker. No cherry picker was brought in.

Senator LUDLAM: What about drones or some other way of observing?

Miss Corke : No, definitely not.

Senator LUDLAM: Teams, people moving through the bush?

Miss Corke : Nothing.

Senator LUDLAM: Miss Corke, you have identified that you only had one eight-paragraph letter back from the state office of the EPA?

Miss Corke : From the compliance department.

Senator LUDLAM: I do not know whether you have it with you or if you would be able to table a copy of that correspondence, but what was its tenor? What did that tell you?

Miss Corke : It was actually somewhat condescending. It basically took each point and gave about paragraph to each one and said, 'Don't worry, darling, it's all being done in the right way,' but in slightly more formal speak.

Senator LUDLAM: Are these conditions meant to be legally binding?

Miss Corke : I do not know the answer to that.

Senator LUDLAM: I would have thought so, otherwise why bother?

Ms Kelly : Under the state EP Act and EPBC Act federally.

Senator LUDLAM: Can you give us a bit of a rundown of the nature of the breaches that you have observed? How do you group them? We have correspondence here that we submitted to the minister, but, maybe for the benefit of the whole committee and those gathered here, what are the general characterisations of the breaches that you allege are taking place?

Miss Corke : Sorry, I am not quite sure what you mean by 'categorisation'.

Senator LUDLAM: You have mentioned dust, for example. You have mentioned trapping. I have just brought up the surveying, so it is those sorts of things.

Miss Corke : It is what we can see with our eyes, really. There is absolutely no dust suppression with a water truck on both clearing and mulching, or it was very occasional. But it is a very dry and dusty place and spraying with a water cart once and then leaving site for two hours while it is refilled and bringing it back has absolutely no effect whatsoever. Then there is the trapping. I did not exactly understand the question, I am sorry.

Senator LUDLAM: It is okay. I am just trying to get a sense of the nature of the breaches that have been observed—that is all. If these are meant to be legally binding, if the contractors and Main Roads are in breach, then there should be some penalty for that. We are just trying to get a sense of exactly what is occurring on site.

Mr Joske : The main areas are dust management, asbestos removal and trapping. With regard to trapping, it is really to do with whether they are following the fauna management plan of two clear nights before they go in and clear and also whether they are following the standards of practice from DPaW about how the traps are laid out, the number of traps and so on. There has also been very little dieback protocol followed throughout the site. Those are probably the main five.

Senator LUDLAM: In terms of trapping, my understanding is that this is to remove marsupials and other threatened species from the area that they are about to destroy. They are meant to set traps a couple of nights in advance and then have two nights where they have set traps but nothing is caught, and that is a kind of proxy for assuming that there are no little critters left in the area. Is that roughly accurate?

Miss Corke : Yes.

Senator LUDLAM: So they set open traps and, if they have two consecutive nights where no little guys are caught, then they can proceed to destroy the area?

Miss Corke : Precisely.

Senator LUDLAM: So tell us what is actually happening. That is what the condition says. What is actually occurring?

Miss Corke : On three occasions we have seen bandicoots removed the morning before they cleared an area. We have also been told that the area is scheduled for clearing the next day, which we find extremely bizarre because how can you schedule something before you know what the result of the previous night's trapping will be? Also, on two occasions on the same day, we saw bandicoots being removed from an area which they started clearing that afternoon, and right at the beginning, on the second day of clearing in January, we saw bandicoots being removed 90 minutes before they cleared an area.

Senator LUDLAM: What about evidence of some of these creatures being killed? In some of the correspondence I have seen, they have been released and then they have immediately run back across the freeway and have been hit by traffic.

Miss Corke : There have been bandicoots run over on road. We have seen bandicoots running from an area that is currently being cleared and others died on the nets which have been very inefficiently put in and they have not been able to leave the area and died of lack of water or panic.

Senator LUDLAM: So, for anybody who has spent time on the ground observing the way that the contractors or Main Roads are behaving, how many times would you say you have reported breaches and to whom? I am happy to open this up to anybody.

Miss Corke : Personally, I have sent 20 emails with about 50 breaches. Some of those were actually ongoing, so were not re-reported. For example, I think I only reported the dust management about 10 times, and it has happened on a daily basis.

Senator LUDLAM: Have you got any replies?

Miss Corke : I get the auto reply.

Senator LUDLAM: 'Your views are very important to us. Please stay on hold.'

Miss Corke : I have had one reply, that one letter.

Senator LUDLAM: And have you received any response at all from the Commonwealth?

Miss Corke : Absolutely none.

Senator LUDLAM: How about any others? Are other groups corresponding or attempting to correspond with the people meant to be issuing compliance?

Ms Kelly : We have received no correspondence back from the EPA, but we have received that letter that I spoke about from Minister Frydenberg, and his response was to name the EPA as the body responsible for the noncompliance issues.

Senator LUDLAM: My understanding is that the EPA does not have the power to stop work though. No breach is so significant that the EPA has the legal authority to stop work. Is that your understanding as well?

Ms Kelly : My understanding is that the agency itself could not, but it could inform the minister. The state minister for the environment could investigate the breaches.

Senator LUDLAM: And has that occurred, to your knowledge?

Ms Kelly : No.

Mr Bryant : I have another issue. For example, the noncompliance with safety law could result in a prohibition notice being issued by WorkSafe, which would have the effect of stopping that until all of the processes have been properly dealt with.

Senator Ludlam interjecting

Mr Bryant : That is the asbestos; it is the emissions of dust, the control, the clean-up. For example, people have been observed picking up pieces of asbestos, breaking pieces of asbestos, and carrying them and putting them in the back of vehicles.

Senator LUDLAM: Contractors?

Mr Bryant : The contractors, supposedly the asbestos removal specialists. In the early days none of those people were wearing proper personal protective equipment. They subsequently have, in just very recent times, started to wear proper gear, but there is even evidence of noncompliance with that.

Senator LUDLAM: Have you folks witnessed any WorkSafe personnel on site since work started?

Mr Bryant : No, I have not. But I did speak for 25 minutes to the chief inspector of WorkSafe, whom I have known for quite some time. It resulted in him hanging up on me and nothing happening. He said that he had been there and he was satisfied that proper processes were being followed. I find that extremely difficult to agree with, because I have been around for a long time and the observations I have personally made there do not support his contention that any of that work has been done properly. There is ample evidence available showing police officers and workers in the compound in dust clouds and not wearing the proper gear for protection, despite the fact that I had raised that with officers on the ground there and the police union.

The police union occ health people have certainly attempted to get them to do the right thing, but they are frustrated because they are not being listened to by police administration. Police administration issued personal protective equipment and then said to their officers, 'We'd prefer you not to wear them, because it's not a good look to the public or the protesters.' That is something that is absolutely unacceptable. It breaks every safety principle going: it is noncompliance by police administration, under section 19 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and it is noncompliance by officers and workers working within section 20 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

Senator LUDLAM: We were there yesterday and, just for the record, can confirm that there were works happening under a roaring easterly. There was dust all over the place and there were no water trucks in sight, so we have seen that personally. How much work would it be for each of you, or collectively, to table a summary of the times that you have reported breaches of these licence conditions and the nature and how you reported it? I am aware that you are all stretched, that you are all volunteers and that you are already working pretty hard, but how much of that material already exists by way of summary?

Miss Corke : I have a time line here for 50 compliance reports, up until 17 February.

Senator LUDLAM: Magic.

Miss Corke : By the way, I would like to add that my emails about noncompliance have also gone to Main Roads, they have gone to Minister Jacob, they have gone to Minister Marmion and they have gone to the EPBC compliance people. Basically, they get copied to a lot of people, none of whom have responded, apart from Main Roads, who sent me form letters saying they would deal with my inquiry within 10 days and have not.

Senator LUDLAM: Again, with respect to the fact that you are all immensely busy, and you have even taken time out to appear today, anything that you are able to provide us on notice by way of a summary of correspondence or breaches of licence conditions would be really valuable.

Senator LINES: I will just put on the record that Mr Bryant and I worked together a long time ago in the trade union movement. Ms Wright and Mr Bryant, I want to ask you about the issue of asbestos, and particularly you, Ms Wright. I understand that the mulching has taken place. The group reported that very high levels of asbestos have been found in the mulch, and a lot of that mulching occurred over the summer period, when the water trucks were not there. So what are local residents feeling about that issue? I know if it were me down there I would be in a panic for my family and my children. What is happening?

Ms Wright : It is quite extraordinary to see a group of people, who are entirely sensible people, so commonly brought to tears. In these meetings that I am convening, there are people who are often on the brink of tears because of the level of anxiety. I think that is mainly due to the fear and worry about what is going on across the road.

I can tell you that we put a suspected contaminated site form into the Department of Environment Regulation on 16 December. I received some correspondence back from them just before early January saying, 'Thank you very much, but we can't see any reason to continue looking into that.' Yet, surprisingly, in early January I got another letter from the Department of Environment Regulation that said, 'Actually, we are looking into this.' I made a phone call to them and they have since examined the site and found that it is not contaminated.

Meanwhile, that is 52 days that people in Coolbellup had this sense of fear and anxiety about whether there is airborne asbestos. Despite the report back from the Department of Environment Regulation, I am sorry but I do not have confidence that they have been able to go through piles and piles of mulch that are really high and can tell me unequivocally that there is no asbestos in there. We found 100 pieces of asbestos throughout the entire site on a cursory survey.

Senator LINES: You also mentioned in your opening statement that there were high levels of dust generated, so obviously that would be a concern for people who are worried about asbestos particles in the dust.

Ms Wright : There are two elements to it. The very first response to that is that we have people—a couple of families, one with children—who have been to the doctor and have medical certificates indicating that they have suffered respiratory effects from the dust. But on top of that there is the great unknown: are there asbestos fibres in the dust? It is very clear that the dust is there, because it is layering over people's houses. In fact, we were so worried about the dust that we as a group of residents conducted asbestos sampling off our own bat, because we just were not getting the evidence back. I do not know why Main Roads or the contractors simply did not provide us with the air monitoring results. Why not?

Senator LINES: When you indicated to the department that the water trucks had not been there, when that is part of what is supposed to happen on site, what has the response been? Have you had a response? I know most of you have not had responses.

Ms Wright : Typically it takes a long time for a response, and it has come from the ministers rather than the departments. It is interesting to note that a government department does not seem to take responsibility. When I called the Department of Health three or four times, they informed me that this does not fall under their legislation. I am not criticising that officer. She was wonderful and empathetic, but she did not seem to be able to take ownership over the issue. It surprises me, as a member of the public, that my public servants are not able to take responsibility and properly confer with their colleagues in other government departments to provide this community with the reassurance we need.

Senator LINES: Mr Bryant, you have a long history and expertise in this area, so what are you thinking about the asbestos and the potential for airborne particles?

Mr Bryant : I think the effects of asbestos are very well known by everybody. In terms of the age of the asbestos that has been discovered there, there is no guarantee that the cement binding will hold the fibres to the piece of asbestos. The fact that machines have been working through there, breaking up the asbestos—and other people have broken up pieces of asbestos as they have been walking around and cleaning it up, or supposedly cleaning it up—gives me great concern.

The problem with asbestos is that the fibres that get deep into your lungs, otherwise known as the respirable fibres, are less than three microns in diameter. So they are not visible to the naked eye, for one. The other thing is that the exposure standard for asbestos fibres—for all of them now: amosite, chrysotile and crocidolite—is 0.1 fibres per millilitre of air. People breathe half a litre of air per breath, and between 12 and 17 breaths per minute. So it does not take much of a calculation to work out what the opportunity is. It is known that as little as one fibre in your lung can lead to mesothelioma, and that is what is giving great concern to the residents who are in close proximity to the construction site. The dust plumes, the lack of watering and the lack of proper process being observed by the residents in that area, and by me, give me even greater concern.

In terms of the mulch, there has been a truck mounted machine going in there, picking up the logs that were pushed over by the bulldozers, putting them into a mulcher and putting the mulch in piles. The piles are quite large, and I have given the secretariat a bundle of documents that show photos of those piles, dust plumes and so forth, so you will be able to see for yourself what is going on, if it is accepted.

There are a number of concerns about that. Main Roads say that they have taken samples from the piles and there is no asbestos. They are big piles and you would have to test every piece of it to be able to guarantee there is no asbestos. The ground around those areas where asbestos was found could also contain fibres. You have machines going through there. When they cleaned up the bush, for example, there were no water trucks in there before they started that process. That is one of the reasons why there were great dust plumes. Even today there are dust plumes from machines because they do not water before they do that work. With the low vegetation, there could easily have been pieces of asbestos in there.

They did not do a square foot by square foot examination of the area before they started the process, and there are 42 examples that have been shown. There is a thing from Envirolab in my bundle of documents giving you the results and the GPS locations, and there is a map showing where they were found. It was just a random walk through some of the areas—not all of the areas—but they are now finding asbestos in the area that they are currently working on, up at the top end of Forrest Road. So all of that gives me great concern. I know, because I have seen it and some of my colleagues in the past have died from mesothelioma, it is not a good thing for a family or a person to go through at all.

Senator LINES: Mr Bryant, when you said that asbestos is still being found, is that in an ad hoc way, not in a systematic search for it?

Mr Bryant : Exactly. When they see it, they pick it up. If they do not see it, they do not pick it up. I have to say also that, if there were any asbestos just below the surface, it would not have been picked up and obviously would not have been seen. With machines running over it, they break it up in the soil as well.

Senator LINES: So it is not just the local residents. I think you mentioned this in your opening statement. It is also potentially the workers there who could be getting highly exposed.

Mr Bryant : Absolutely, and the public outside of there. The vehicles that are going in and out of that fenced off area, once they leave the compound, travel on the roads. They have not been washing them down and decontaminating them, like they are supposed to. That is a concern, because as they drive around they create dust. The dust gets all over the vehicle. It could finish up all around the place.

Senator REYNOLDS: Thank you very much for your testimony here today. I want to confirm some issues in terms of the breaches that you are alleging have occurred. A range of things have been said. One is a specific allegation about processes relating to surveys of black cockatoos—correct; one in relation to asbestos and the checking and remediation—correct; and one in relation to the traps' protocols for bandicoots—correct. And the next one is pollutants in the water—is that from one of the submissions here? No, okay. The watering down of the site relates to the dust but also asbestos—is that right?

Mr Bryant : Yes.

Senator REYNOLDS: Have I missed anything or are those the mains ones?

Mr Joske : You have also missed following die-back protocols. That has not occurred on-site.

Miss Corke : Also, where there has been contamination that has not been dealt with properly. That was the contamination when they had the barrel spill and they just went on clearing around it.

Ms Kelly : There are a number of extra compliance issues that I am happy to table. Our 21 pages contain a whole manner of contamination and other issues in great detail.

Senator REYNOLDS: Can you explain how you have come to that conclusion, that these breaches have occurred? How have you gone about observing the entire site? What methods did you use?

Miss Corke : We used our eyes. I have a team of about 40 watchers who work incredibly hard and they cover the site and just watch and take photographs. We also have some experts on the team and experts who we can consult. If we see something we think is not right, we will take a photograph or bring an expert to get to that.

Senator REYNOLDS: Your team of 40 can see the entire site, 24 hours a day?

Miss Corke : No, because they are not working on the entire site. There are only bits they work on at a certain time.

Senator REYNOLDS: In terms of where they are working, you are confident you do not miss anything?

Miss Corke : We do not miss anything that you can see from outside the fences.

Mr Joske : For all the compliance breaches that we have observed, it is not necessary to be there 24 hours a day. For example, trappers have to go in within three hours of sun-up and check the traps and see if there are any live animals in there. If they do not do that, they are not being compliant. From our perspective, that means we have to be there for those three hours of the day where we know they are trapping. It is not always necessary to be there 24/7.

Senator REYNOLDS: Miss Corke, you said you can observe as much as you can do. You are on the other side of the fence. So you are observing as far as your eyes can see inside the site?

Miss Corke : This is very true but until the most recent section, the rather lazy trapper put all their traps along the side of the fence so we could actually see them.

Senator REYNOLDS: My point is that you have seen and you have observed to a certain point on the site.

Mr Bryant : And there are photographs of asbestos there with vehicles parked where they have been running over them.

Senator REYNOLDS: We will be looking at the photographs.

Senator PRATT: You went through some evidence regarding the removal of animals and the condition being that there would have to be no animals trapped for a period of days. How many days is it before clearing should—

Miss Corke : It is not actually 'no animals'; it is for the southern brown bandicoots that they have to have two clear nights before clearing.

Senator PRATT: And you have seen evidence that those clear days have not, in effect, happened before the clearing has commenced?

Miss Corke : Yes.

Senator PRATT: You have reported that immediately to the EPA?

Miss Corke : Absolutely.

Senator PRATT: Since the reporting of that, have you seen similar occurrences? Do you know if your intervention had any impact on a change of practice on site?

Miss Corke : Yes, it has recently. In fact, in one conversation with Paul Zahra at the EPA he said they were using my reports as a kind of handbook to tell the contractors what they were doing wrong. I am extremely happy to say that the most recent section that is due to be cleared has now been trapped for nine nights and has not been cleared because we have seven or eight watchers all around that one watching the trappers coming in and out and we have photographic evidence everyday that they have caught. This has been sent to the EPA and they have not yet cleared that site.

Mr Joske : On top of that, with the two clear nights it is really dependent on traps being set in a correct manner and following the standard operating procedures of DPaW, which they are required to do under the fauna management plan. That has not been followed throughout the whole project. So it is very easy to have a clear night of trapping if you place, for example, a trap under some floodlights next to a security guard or if there are two nights of heavy rain when they should be shut, and so on and so forth.

Miss Corke : Or you actually remove 80 per cent of the traps the night before. You cannot really catch something if there is no trap there.

Senator PRATT: So those things in and of themselves would also be breaches?

Miss Corke : Absolutely.

Senator PRATT: Clearly, these bandicoots are being removed for a reason, because they are endangered. Can you tell me about the significance of this habitat to those animals?

Ms Kelly : The southern brown bandicoots are a priority species under the EPBC Act. This urban woodland and wetland system is one of the last remaining fragments of urban bushland and wetlands on the Swan coastal plain. It contains nature woodlands, which the bandicoots particularly love. There is an incredible relationship between the health of the system and the bandicoots being there. They are like constant little gardeners. They actually move about three tonnes of soil each a year. So they aerate the soil and make the trees able to have a micro-algal function. The micro-algal function is the way in which the trees communicate with one another and ensures that the health of the whole ecosystem is kept in tact. They are actually essential for the health of the urban woodland and wetland system. They dear little creatures as well.

Senator PRATT: Is the translocation of trees an environmental condition for some species where possible? One of you gave evidence that trees have been bulldozed that you had expected would be translocated—is that correct?

Ms Kelly : The translocation claim was made by the Liberal Party in their recent advertisement about the construction of Roe 8 and it has been a part of the environmental rationale for their project, that they were going to translocate some of the trees. But to date, nothing—

Miss Corke : For me, it was more the trees that were bulldozed were too tall to have been checked for hollows. They were massive trees and there was no way they could have found if there were hollows up the top or not. There was no way that any of those could have been checked because you could not have got a cherry picker to them because of the bush. They would have to clear to check.

We do have those trees mapped. We know how many trees were in there and how many hollows they had. That was mapped quite some time ago.

2009 and we believe that actually since that time many more of those trees—we have had a couple of good winters—would have become significant trees as well. So that was another concern, that really tall trees, some pre settlement trees, had not been properly surveyed to make sure that there were no nesting chicks in them.

Mrs Dravnieks : It does take approximately 100 years before a suitable hollow would be in a tree. Some of those had two, three, four or five hollows in those trees, so some of them were several hundred years old.

Senator PRATT: I wondered if you might take on notice—I know you have offered to give some of this evidence in terms of forwarding emails, and it is a little bit of a task—the extent to which you can align your evidence of breaches with each of the conditions. I know you have been feeding that to the EPA over time, but if you are able to put that together in some kind of table that would be terrific. I think a number of you have raised issues that should have been included or assessed, but there were no conditions attached to some environmental issues.

Miss Corke : How long do I have to do that?

Senator PRATT: The secretariat will have to advise you of that.

Miss Corke : Thank you.

Senator LUDLAM: We will have the Commonwealth environment department's compliance officers here a little bit later this afternoon. What questions would you put to them if you were on this side of the table?

Ms Kelly : I think I would talk about the surveys for the trees, particularly about the potential for nesting cockatoos. It was quite a late season this year, and there could have been forest red-tailed cockatoos nesting in the area. We know there is a community at Murdoch University, which is very close. I am not convinced that all those trees were properly checked for chicks. We know, for example, that many rainbow bee-eater nests were just run over by the machines. We saw tawny frogmouths and owls fleeing trees as they were toppled. The scale of the destruction has been horrible.

Miss Corke : I would like to know who is signing off on the daily clearing permits and who is overseeing the trappers and the trapping methods because we know it has been very, very poorly done. Where are the environmental consultants who are actually going in and looking to see that the trapping programs have been compliant?

Ms Kelly : Have the EPA actually informed the minister about the noncompliance issues?

Senator LUDLAM: We have correspondence from Minister Frydenberg that says nothing.

Miss Corke : But the minister got every single one of my emails.

Senator LUDLAM: That is why it is important, if this is headed back to court, which I suspect it is, that we just have that evidence from you folk on the table so we can match them up.

Miss Corke : Just with respect to what I was asked to table before, in every single email I state where the compliance breach is. Does that need to be redone? It refers to the condition under the former management plan and the CEMP. It is always stated.

Senator LUDLAM: That is perfect. I think that was what Senator Pratt was asking about as well. If that has ready been done—

Miss Corke : Good. That is all done.

Senator LUDLAM: that is great.

Mrs Dravnieks : I think adding to Phoebe's question is the expertise of those people who are signing off: do they have appropriate qualifications to do that? It would be nice to know that.

Senator LUDLAM: Somebody has to issue a daily clearing permit every single day before somebody can start up the equipment?

Miss Corke : Absolutely.

Mr Bryant : For each section.

Ms Kelly : There should be a manifest with all of the captured animals and the translocation details for the animals. We would like to see all those manifests and see how they tally with our own survey.

Senator LUDLAM: I presume those folk are all contractors employed by Transport and Main Roads or employed by CIMIC or whatever they call themselves.

Miss Corke : We believe that the trappers on a daily basis originally were subcontracted to a company called GHD. Then I think that, possibly after a lot of our noncompliance emails, a further company called EPM were brought in. They first appeared on site on 6 February. They seem to be overseeing the trapping now. We believe that the signoffs are done by a man called Brad Maryan, who is on the website as an employee of a company called Biologic. However, they say they have no involvement in the project.

Ms Kelly : There is another company called Strategen that is also implicated.

Senator LUDLAM: It would not be that unusual to have enviro consultancies doing that quarter of the work though, would it?

Miss Corke : No.

Senator LUDLAM: I guess if people have been following this issue at a distance, you might imagine that it is all over—the clearing is finished; the damage has all been done—and what is the point of even holding this inquiry? Could you talk us through, if you are able, the total impact area that they want to clear and smother in concrete. How much damage has been done, and how much is still standing and intact?

Miss Corke : First of all, they have not finished. Two of the most beautiful parts of the project are still standing. At the other end of the project, there is some beautiful bushland still there so it is not over yet in terms of the destruction. As to what has been destroyed, it is basically a 25 to 30 metre strip that runs at the moment for 4½ kilometres. There are crushed limestone paths being put into a great deal of this and they are about four to five metres wide, and that is where we are at the moment.

Senator LUDLAM: Is that to bring road building equipment and that sort of stuff?

Miss Corke : Yes.

Mr Bryant : They have just fenced off an area that abuts the rear fence of the Blue Gum Montessori school so there are going to be some immediate dust and noise issues for the children in that school. Across the road from that is a daycare kindergarten where a lot of young kids are, and they were never even told anything about that project.

Senator LUDLAM: I used to live on that street.

Ms Wright : If the road goes ahead, I cannot think of another road that is so close to people's homes and cuts right through a community. If the road goes ahead, I would like to see greater consultation and information provided to local residents so they can either maintain their business at home or maintain some sense of sanity with the kinds of works that are going on. I would also raise the issue of Shane Chambers' report, which asserts that the noise modelling done by Main Roads is completely out of whack and that noise will have a direct impact on residents health and wellbeing, and on the value of their properties.

Senator LUDLAM: I do not know if I can speak for the entire community but I want to thank you for all that you have done for that community and for the environment.

Mrs Dravnieks : Senator Ludlam, can I add to your last question that the topsoil still remains in those areas, even though the vegetation has been removed. Why we still have that topsoil is revegetation can be done and is already planned for Mother's Day this year. I think all the community will be out there, particularly the huge number of women that have been out, like Phoebe and a lot of other people. As a community, we have been so strong and united in pulling this together, and we will revegetate this area. Thank you for being here.

CHAIR: Thank you for attending.

Proceedings suspended from 12:33 to 13:16