Jury out on toxins in Williamtown’s red zone, banks believe

CAUGHTOUT: Ryan Baker and his daughter Ociana in the backyard of their home at Salt Ash. Mr Ryan is unable to take out a business loan because his house is in the red zone. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
CAUGHTOUT: Ryan Baker and his daughter Ociana in the backyard of their home at Salt Ash. Mr Ryan is unable to take out a business loan because his house is in the red zone. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

The banking industry has extended its sympathy to residents of Williamtown’s red zone, but has cautioned that decisions on lending will hinge on the outcome of further research into the chemicals at the centre of the contamination scandal. 

The Turnbull government turned the spotlight back onto the banks on Tuesday, when asked what consideration it had given to addressing the financial impacts of the contamination, which has decimated property values and seen a freeze on lending within the postcode. 

Liberal senator James McGrath said the per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemical [PFAS] taskforce was in talks with the banking industry and providing it with “accurate” information to “inform business decisions”.

The Australian Bankers’ Association (ABA), Customer Owned Banking Association, the big four banks, the Australian Property Institute and the Insurance Council of Australia have all been involved in the discussions. 

An ABA spokesperson said it was relying on the government to “lead” on the important issue and was assisting where possible. 

“The banking industry is sympathetic to the residents caught up in the PFAS issue across the country and have been actively working with the government taskforce,” the spokesperson said. 

“Australian banks, along with the rest of the community and stakeholder groups, are awaiting updated advice from the taskforce and for further research reports on the impact of PFAS to be delivered.

“Residents in affected areas should contact their bank with any concerns they may have or if they are experiencing financial difficulties.”

Senator McGrath said the taskforce had been highlighting the “lack of consistent scientific evidence of adverse health effects from PFAS exposure.” 

This incensed residents, who feared that critical information – including the US EPA’s 2016 finding that the chemicals are a human health hazard – was being withheld from the banks. 

But Campbell Fuller from the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) confirmed it had been made aware of the US health advisory. He said the contamination had not had an effect on the availability or pricing of household insurance. 

“The ICA has been engaged in discussions with government agencies about PFAS and has assured the taskforce that no implications for general insurance are likely,” Mr Fuller said. 

It’s understood the federal government has offered banking industry players a briefing on the issue. 

On Tuesday, the Newcastle Herald reported that a resident was struggling to obtain a loan to expand his business – located in Newcastle – because his home was within the red zone. 

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