The federal government's war of attrition with Williamtown's red zone residents

A property in Williamtown's red zone.
A property in Williamtown's red zone.

THE political war of attrition to prise the required financial assistance from the federal government to clean up its own contamination leaching from Williamtown RAAF Base and compensate affected residents has been going on for three years.

The anniversary is the bitter culmination of a long and painful battle for residents against a revolving door of government ministers and bureaucrats who have failed to provide an adequate response to the environmental disaster.

For residents, the three-year anniversary has been the realisation of their worst fears.

No buybacks, no compensation for distressed property values, government claims of no significant health impacts and little – to no – hope, outside of a class action lawsuit against the polluter, the Department of Defence.

Politicians and public servants have avoided visiting the area, preferring to provide inadequate responses from the comfort of their city offices. Over the past three years, the Newcastle Herald has told countless heartbreaking stories as residents, desperate to flee the contamination zone, increasingly feel deserted by their own government.

A  baby born in Williamtown with 40 times the safe level of the contaminants in its blood, a property owner issued with a bank foreclosure notice after being unable to rent or sell her farm and the uncovering of a potential cancer cluster along Cabbage Tree Road. 

Williamtown resident Terry Robinson, at his wits’ end, telling a parliamentary inquiry that researchers involved in the federal government health study advised him to “go on a holiday” to relieve the mental stress. “Unfortunately you can't go on holiday for the rest of your life,” he said.

The mental anguish is a typical complaint repeated by many red zone residents who, like the Robinsons, are fairly typical Hunter families.

Journalists have reported government and Defence apathy about the situation, tedious red tape and the sad fact that politicians seem well aware that they are on a course to wear the community down.

This is a government which many Williamtown residents believed, in the beginning at least, was tasked with protecting its citizens’ interests. But the hard facts are that the community has won only small concessions so far.

The sheer determination of residents including the Williamtown and Surrounds Residents’ Action Group, the Fullerton Cove Resident Action Group, the Coalition Against PFAS and supportive members of the community who have toiled over the years to advocate for a fair go has kept hope alive for those involved with the fight.

No one quite knows what the future will bring, or what either side of politics intends to do about the injustice. So far they have both done little. But one thing is for certain, the residents are not giving up the fight.

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