Williamtown red zone resident Rhianna Gorfine on why action is needed now to help people living a nightmare

NIGHTMARE: Red zone resident Rhianna Gorfine holds her daughter Bronte, then 5, at the second anniversary last September of the Williamtown contamination announcement. "Three years is quite enough," she said this week. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
NIGHTMARE: Red zone resident Rhianna Gorfine holds her daughter Bronte, then 5, at the second anniversary last September of the Williamtown contamination announcement. "Three years is quite enough," she said this week. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

What has happened in Williamtown is a direct result of the Australian Department of Defence's negligence over decades in the incorrect use and handling of a substance they knew was harmful to the environment. More than that, these events have exposed a broken system, a system that allows a polluter to dictate the terms of its own clean-up, a system which does not have a federal environmental watchdog, a system which places the responsibility of contamination management on Commonwealth lands back to the polluter.

And what happens next, when the Department of Defence is involved, is nothing short of a national disgrace. We have an intimate understanding of this government's failure to act. It would be an understatement to say that we have a solid understanding, therefore, of the entire issue: the government's inaction, the science, and Defence's – really, an interchangeable term with 'the government's' – denial.

Like many others in our community, tonight will be another that we hide our tears, our frustrations and our anger and put on a brave face, not knowing what our future holds, as we tuck our children into bed and read them a story. Think about that for a moment. Yes, this is our harsh reality.

The Department of Defence, their lack of accountability, has permanently altered the path we had chosen for our family. More than that, it has torn at the seams of the fabric of our dreams.

This legacy is now a burden each and every one of you sitting in parliament must recognise – a burden you must bear, for it is within your power and influence that the wheels of change can be set into motion.

The deep, muddy tracks of the slow-moving behemoth that is Defence must be levelled and a new destination set and a road of recovery signed off by you, here, now.

We rely on you for the outcomes we all deserve, because we have tried – we have met the behemoth head-on, and it has rolled straight over us. Sure, we'll continue to fight, but we need you to pull them into line, to give them a dose of reality. We may not be immune from their contamination, but you, each and every one of you, holds the antidote to their inertia. Help us awake the behemoth from its hibernation, and give us back our future. If you can't awake them, get on with business without them.

There are people in this community who cannot afford to wait another three years under a cloud of doubt; there are people who cannot afford another sleepless night worrying if they have made their kids sick; there are people who cannot afford to hold off just a bit longer hoping Defence will do the right thing.

Your challenges are clear, and the community's expectation is even clearer. Demand Defence stop immediately any further contamination leaving the base. Demand compensation for the families of Williamtown, Salt Ash and Fullerton Cove. Ensure those payments reach our bank accounts before our fourth Christmas living this nightmare. And make certain there is enough to put us back in the position we were in before this sorry mess began for us in September, 2015.

This Christmas will be our fourth. There are people in this community who cannot afford to wait another three years living under a cloud of doubt; there are people in this community who cannot afford another sleepless night worrying if they have made their kids sick; there are people in this community who cannot afford to hold off just a little bit longer hoping that Defence will do the right thing; and there are people in this community who cannot afford to keep paying a mortgage on a home that is not fit for purpose and is worth nothing because our leaders in government could not come together to get things done.

Those are the stories we carry: the father who walks the halls when his wife sleeps, knowing his bank does not recognise any value in their property; the mother who sits in the corner alone, fearful that the very milk which fed her newborn son has poisoned him; the family trapped in a worthless home whose doctor has specifically told them to leave to protect their children; and the community group forced into suing its very own government just to hold it to account when that same government has openly admitted to harming its people.

All of that could have been managed in some small way if and only if Defence had not, through their negligence, their apathy and their inertia, stolen what is most important of all: our time.

Remember December 24, 2018. Please don't let the sun set on a fourth Christmas living this nightmare. Three years is quite enough.

Comments