Defence to blame so it should pay: base boss

Concerned residents at Wednesday night’s community meeting  at Tomago Bowling Club. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers.

Concerned residents at Wednesday night’s community meeting at Tomago Bowling Club. Pictures: Max Mason-Hubers.

THE commander of the Williamtown RAAF Base has admitted that the Defence Force should pay compensation for the water contamination scare.

Air Commodore Steve Roberton addressed a public meeting in Tomago on Wednesday night and told residents he was "horrified" about the impact the contamination scandal had made "on the lives of people in this community".

He said the Defence Force was responsible for the pollution, and as such, responsible for paying any compensation.

"Defence polluted here, Defence pays," he said.

Members of the Williamtown Contamination Investigation Community Reference group will attend a meeting held by the Department of Premier and Cabinet at Newcastle Airport on Thursday, and Commodore Roberton said they would discuss compensation.

"There's a lot of good intent at the moment but actually to trigger compensation especially for those who really need it, we need to get the federal and the state level connected," he said.

"It's actually getting the mechanism for the money to get it into the right groups."

He also revealed that the state's peak environmental regulator, the Environmental Protection Authority, has outlined the compensation it thinks that Defence should pay.

The EPA's Hunter Region manager Adam Gilligan said compensation related to "community impact and the cost to the NSW government" of the contamination, but did not include a dollar figure.

The EPA’s  Hunter Region manager Adam Gilligan answers a
 question.

The EPA’s Hunter Region manager Adam Gilligan answers a question.

The meeting was chaired by Cain Gorfine, the head of the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents Action Group, and heard from a number of officials and residents. Paterson MP Bob Baldwin was critical of the handling of the issue, saying he had first read about the contamination scare in the Newcastle Herald.

He said he had since been briefed by Defence officials, and had written to new Defence Minister Marise Payne about compensation for residents.

The omission of Port Stephens MP Kate Washington from the reference group led to some angry remarks at the meeting.

Earlier in the day, the NSW Chief Scientist Mary O'Kane revealed that testing on oysters around the Tilligerry Peninsula had indicated that they posed no food safety risk.

Fishing and oyster harvest bans have been in place around the Tilligerry Peninsula for nearly a month after the discovery that toxic perfluoro-octane sulphonate and perfluoro-octanoic acid from a fire-fighting foam previously used at the Williamtown RAAF Base had leaked into ground and surface water.

The state government established an expert panel to oversee the response to the contamination overseen by Dr O'Kane.

Part of the review by the panel included a dietary exposure assessment on oysters and fish from the Tilligerry Creek by Food Standards Australia and New Zealand.

Dr O'Kane said the results of those assessments had suggested that the oysters "do not present a food safety risk".