Williamtown contamination: Turnbull government given February deadline to explain position on compensation for red zone

UNDER THE PUMP: Liberal Senator James McGrath
UNDER THE PUMP: Liberal Senator James McGrath

The Turnbull government has been slapped with a February deadline to explain its position on compensation and property buy-backs for people trapped in Williamtown’s red zone. 

It comes after residents begged Defence officials for a way out at a meeting on Tuesday, amid fears they could be stranded on toxic, unsaleable properties until at least 2050. 

Defence Minister Marise Payne and Liberal senator James McGrath have been missing in action since May, when they travelled to Williamtown and vowed to find a solution to the crisis. 

A motion passed in the Senate on Wednesday, calling on the Turnbull government to explain “what consideration has been given to understanding and addressing any financial impacts on affected businesses and individuals” in Williamtown. 

The federal government must respond by February 5.

The motion was put by Greens senator Lee Rhiannon and was co-sponsored by Labor. It won the support of minor parties, including the Nick Xenophon Team, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Derryn Hinch. 

Senator Rhiannon said it was a win, given Senator McGrath had previously said it would be “wrong” to give a timeframe on any solution. 

“We’re pleased the Senate has disagreed with him and called on the government to explain how it plans to deal with financial impacts on businesses and individuals.” 

Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson said it appeared the “toxic dysfunction” of the Turnbull and Berejiklian governments had derailed their ability to find a solution to the contamination crisis. 

The motion also called for urgent action to stop the continued contamination around the RAAF base and to improve both blood and environmental testing regimes.

Senator McGrath, who heads a taskforce on the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl [PFAS] contamination, would not comment on whether a compensation package had been ruled in or out. 

“The PFAS taskforce, coordinated by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, is leading the whole of government response and is considering potential options to assist affected communities,” he said. 

Senator McGrath added that measures already rolled out at Williamtown included water treatment plants and the removal of sediment from open drains. 

“The government has extended blood testing, participation in the epidemiological study and access to dedicated mental health services,” he said.