A Senate-imposed deadline has arrived for the Turnbull government to explain where it stands on compensation for people who have had their finances and livelihoods devastated by the Williamtown contamination crisis.
A motion, steered through the upper house by the Greens and Labor late last year, gave the Coalition until Monday to explain “what consideration has been given to understanding and addressing any financial impacts on affected businesses and individuals”.
Greens senator Lee Rhiannon demanded an end to the wall of silence that has met residents’ pleas for an escape from the area.
“If the Turnbull government fails to report by February 5, or their report is inadequate, it will be another cruel blow to locals who face an uncertain future – not just because of the toxic pollution they have been exposed to, but because of the heartless response from authorities,” she said.
During a well-publicised visit to the area last May, Defence Minister Marise Payne and Senator James McGrath reassured residents they were working on a “solution” to the crisis, which has decimated property values and seen banks place a freeze on lending in the postcode.
Senator McGrath, the head of the federal government’s per- and poly-flouroalkyl chemical (PFAS) taskforce, said the issue of property acquisitions was on his desk.
We would like the money to flow to the people who actually need it.- Meryl Swanson
However the pair have been missing in action since, while residents endure their third year stranded on contaminated properties since the “red zone” was declared.
May will mark 18 years since Australian environmental officials were warned by the US EPA the chemicals – which had been contaminating Williamtown for decades – could cause “severe, long-term consequences” to human health and the environment.
Member for Paterson Meryl Swanson said it was critical that Senator McGrath produce his plan on Monday.
“They’ve spent a lot of money on the base but a limited amount of money on the community,” she said. “We would like the money to flow to the people who actually need it.”