TAKEN at face value, Wednesday’s Senate resolution calling on the federal government to explain what it’s been doing in “understanding and addressing” the financial impacts of the Williamtown RAAF contamination crisis might just be a turning point of sorts in this unwelcome saga.
Answered honestly, it might just give long-suffering red zone residents some sort of clarity as to how they stand in their David and Goliath battle with the Department of Defence. But if history is any guide, the answer, come the February 5 deadline, is more likely than not to be another example of the sort of bureaucratic hedging that the residents and businesses trapped on the PFAS merry-go-round have already heard enough of. That said, Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon is to be thanked for her determination in pushing the government to action, as is Labor for joining with the Greens to push the motion through.
The unfortunate reality is that those living through the PFAS controversy are already drowning in a sea of information. Some of the material, like the differing red zones adopted by the state and federal governments, is, at best, plain confusing. At worst, it could be, as Labor has suggested, a sign of a fracture between state and federal administrations in handling the issue.
Either way, it does nothing to instill confidence in the minds of residents, especially when the state and federal agencies are now giving differing advice about what can, and what can’t, be eaten in some parts of the red zone. But the worst thing for those affected must surely be that after all of the government attention – the investigations, the measurements, the reassurances and the committees – nobody seems able to answer the most obvious questions thrown up by the crisis. Despite fears of a cancer cluster in the red zone, Defence is still saying there is no “consistent evidence” that PFAS impacts on human health. It says it can show people how to minimise their PFAS exposure, but it can’t predict any future health effects, or whether existing effects are associated with past exposure. Such questions may indeed be difficult to answer, but they are the logical concerns of a population caught up a contamination and health scare that was not of their making.
So when February 5 swings around, they’ll be wanting a proper answer to Wednesday’s Senate resolution, not a bureaucratic flick-pass taking them nowhere.