Greens, One Nation motion for buybacks in Williamtown red zone defeated in the Senate

Greens senator Lee Rhiannon was behind the motion, to begin the process of buybacks for residents in the 'red zone'.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon was behind the motion, to begin the process of buybacks for residents in the 'red zone'.

A MOTION for the Turnbull government to begin the process of a voluntary buyout in Williamtown’s ‘red zone’ is dead in the water, after it was blocked in the Senate by both major parties on Tuesday. 

The motion was put by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon and found support among One Nation senators and independent Nick Xenophon.

But it was defeated after Labor sided with the Coalition to vote it down, along with crossbenchers David Leyonhjelm, Cory Bernardi and Derryn Hinch. 

One Nation senator Brian Burston fired a broadside at Labor over the move, saying he was shocked at their position after statements in the media as recently as last week calling for “urgent action” to help residents. 

“It’s not often that One Nation agree on anything with the Greens, let alone vote with them,” he said. 

“However the disaster that is PFOS/PFOA contamination, which is severely affecting the community ... is above politics. It seems that, like the government, Labor is all talk on the issue.” 

But in a joint statement, Shadow Assistant Defence Minister Gai Brodtmann and Paterson MP Meryl Swanson argued supporting the motion would have been counterproductive to finding a solution for residents. 

“The time for talk is over,” the Labor MPs said. 

“We need to see the Turnbull government’s solution, not give the government an opportunity to delay things further. 

“Supporting a motion that would allow the Turnbull government to delay the release of a solution is not in the interests of the communities of Williamtown, Fullerton Cove and Salt Ash.” 

The motion noted “growing concern of [sic] reports of an extensive cancer cluster of up to 49 cases, particularly around the area of Cabbage Tree Road”, as revealed by a Herald investigation

It noted reports of residents returning abnormally high blood levels of the firefighting chemicals outside the red zone’s boundaries. 

It called on the federal government to immediately release information on the strategy of its poly- and per-fluoroalkyl (PFAS) taskforce, to investigate the design of a voluntary buy-out scheme and urgently develop a plan to clean up existing and prevent further contamination. 

Defence and the NSW EPA were urged to re-examine the boundaries of the red zone. 

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Senator James McGrath, said a $55 million package was funding a range of current and future activities to address contamination across the country, including at Williamtown. 

“The last thing the residents need is the Greens trying to turn this sensitive and serious matter into a political football,” he said. 

“This matter is above party politics and the Coalition is doing everything it can to respond appropriately.”