ONE NATION senator Brian Burston has warned he will consider withdrawing support for some of the federal government’s budget measures in the Senate, unless it moves to urgently fund the relocation of residents who wish to leave Williamtown’s contamination red zone.
It comes in the wake of a Newcastle Herald special investigation on Saturday that revealed at least 24 people on part of the heavily polluted Cabbage Tree Road have had cancer in the last 15 years.
Senator Burston said the figure was “mind-boggling.”
“The government now has to look very seriously at funding relocation expenses for residents and put them out of their misery, so to speak. Let them get on with their lives,” he said, adding the funding should cover other affected communities like Oakey and Salt Ash.
“I think it’s the perfect time to suggest that if the government doesn’t come to the party … we may have to reconsider our position on some of their budget measures, to increase the pressure for the funding to come forward.”
It came as Labor announced it would seek an urgent briefing on Monday from the Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, James McGrath, who is head of the federal government taskforce overseeing its response to the contamination.
“Labor is deeply concerned by this weekend's Newcastle Herald reports of a possible ‘cancer cluster’ on Cabbage Tree Road and calls on the Turnbull government to release its ‘solution’ for Williamtown and incorporate a review of any cancer patterns into current studies,” Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence Gai Brodtmann and Paterson MP Meryl Swanson said in a joint statement.
Senator Burston said the health fears gave rise to a new sense of urgency.
“Residents can’t afford to wait another two or three years for the epidemiological study to be released,” he said.
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Senator Burston described the number of cancers as “extraordinary” and too large to be coincidental.
“The government will be dealing with the equivalent of another asbestos crisis if they’re not careful,” he said.
At present, most of the people in Williamtown wanting to flee their contaminated properties have found them unsaleable, and have been forced to pay rent on top of their existing mortgages.
Gaylene Brown, who has already suffered breast cancer, told the Herald she feared she would be unable to sell her Cabbage Tree Road home to fund the medical expenses if she was to become ill again.
“This weekend’s reports only further add to the considerable anxiety, distress and uncertainty in the Williamtown community caused by nearly two years of Turnbull government inaction,” the statement from Labor said.
“The Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister has publicly stated he is working on a ‘solution’ for the Williamtown community affected by the use of PFAS.
“What ‘solution’ is he proposing? When will the ‘solution’ be released? Has the ‘solution’ been developed in consultation with the Williamtown community? And will the ‘solution’ include a review of possible ‘cancer clusters’?”
The heads of the three action groups in Williamtown welcomed the commitments from Labor and One Nation.
“These bureaucrats in Canberra, if their family member got sick and started dying they could probably pay to give them the best possible treatment,” president of Salt Ash Community First Nick Marshall said.
“For someone in the red zone they can’t even put a mortgage on their house.
“We could be waiting another three years for the health study, which is a hell of a long time for the people who are suffering now.”
Member for Port Stephens Kate Washington echoed those sentiments.
“We can’t wait for the outcome of the epidemiological study in the years to come. If we do, it’ll be too late for too many people,” she said. “The awful facts speak for themselves. The government must act now to support residents to leave the red zone.”