18 July 2018



SUBJECT/S: PFAS Inquiry Hearing in Katherine

ADAM STEER PRESENTER, ABC BREAKFAST DARWIN: It seems to be moving awfully slow for Katherine residents but the Senate Inquiry into PFAS contamination will finally pull into town for a public hearing on Thursday. Residents are frustrated about the Federal Governments handling of the PFAS contamination in their community and are looking for answers. There are some who wont drink the water and others who fear the long-term health effects the firefighting foam contamination has had on their children. Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy is the Deputy Chair of the inquiry. Senator, is it quite clear Katherine residents are frustrated with the Governments response thus far on PFAS, what are you expecting to hear on Thursday?

SENATOR MALARNDIRRI MCCARTHY, SENATOR FOR THE NORTHERN TERRITORY: This is an important opportunity for the residents of Katherine to speak directly to the parliamentary inquiry. It is an opportunity that they have not had before whilst other communities have across Australia. I would urge all residents and businesses to certainly attend and listen to the inquiry tomorrow. We do have an open forum between 4- 4:30 pm for those people who have not submitted anything but would still like to attend and give their voice to the inquiry.

STEER: What do you think this hearing on Thursday is actually going to accomplish for the people of Katherine. You can hear the cynicism within many people in the town already saying we have had Defence here, weve had the Federal Government here, nothing has really happened except some small water decontamination plants.

MCCARTHY: Look this is important that the Parliament of Australia is listening to the people of the Katherine. It is not just about Government it is also about the Opposition, it is about all Parliamentarians recognising the dramatic impact this is having on the township of Katherine and not just Katherine of course but also Newcastle and Queensland where we will also be going with this inquiry. What I urge the people of Katherine to do is to come forward, speak loudly and be very clear. Weve had submissions already coming from residents some of them confidential, which wont be released to the public but they are released to the inquiry the senators and members of the parliament on the communities and this is important. I have advocated very strongly along with Warren Snowdon and Luke Gosling to make sure the Northern Territory voices are heard. It is our first time to be heard and I would say that putting cynicism aside and come forward and speak very strongly.

STEER: What have you heard so far in terms of the effect of PFAS on sites around the country?

MCCARTHY: We have heard very very personal stories largely from families and businesses impacted and the hurt Adam, the human cost of being ignored and mental health concerns the cost of property prices falling, the movement to do anything has been way too slow. The lack of coordination, or belief that there is a lack of coordination between Federal and State and Territory jurisdictions, these are the very loud and clear concerns coming through on the submissions.

STEER: The deadline for submissions to the inquiry closed on July 9, as you said you do have an open forum for people who didnt get an opportunity to put in their submissions. Has the Northern Territory Government Committed to the inquiry, have they said anything?

MCCARTHY: The Northern Territory Government hasnt provided a written submission to the inquiry but the Member for Katherine will be appearing before the committee on Thursday.

STEER: A contamination expert has reported it is highly likely that more of Australia has been impacted than previously reported by the potentially harmful chemicals. What is next for the inquiry? Where are you up to next?

MCCARTHY: Clearly in Katherine this week and onto Newcastle next week and then we will have a hearing in Canberra as well in terms of the Departments and also over to Queensland to hear some of the concerns in the Ipswich area. These are our practical hearing dates and times and that is certainly on the parliamentary website, it will be coming up if they are not there yet. Then, of course, we have to put the report to the Parliament in September so there is a short time, because we want action instead of considerably long delays in hearings.

STEER: Youre on ABC radio Adam Steer with you. Youre also hearing from NT Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy. Senator, what action would you like the Federal Government to take, is it about compensation, is it about buying land?

MCCARTHY: There are many things going on at the moment Adam, one of the things that I am very aware of is the class actions underway. We are very aware of the financial considerations for families and businesses in relation to contamination and certainly concerns in terms of productivity for farming across the country. I am very mindful of the fact that we have over 60 submissions, we have a long way to go to listen to people and all of these things will be taken into consideration. Naturally one of the things that we have been lobbying for outside of the inquiry is the blood tests in Katherine. I certainly pushed very hard for, the health and mental wellbeing of people and families is critical you dont need an inquiry to be able to act on that straight away and I will also be wanting to hear how that is going in Katherine.

STEER: Will you be pushing for some type of financial compensation from the Federal Government to the people of Katherine or some suggestion that perhaps some of those properties should be bought up by the Federal Government.

MCCARTHY: We have to discuss that Adam, there is no doubt about is, this is coming through very loudly in terms of the submissions and I am sure that we are going to hear more about it in person from witnesses when they come forward. There is no doubt that it is causing a dramatic impact on the lives of people, people who are in retirement age and have planned so much all their lives and have written to us, we know this is impacting deeply and I certainly will be asking questions in relation to that. I am not the Federal Government, but I will certainly pushing very hard to make sure these families and businesses are fairly and respectfully treated.

STEER: Senator, good to speak with you this morning.

MCCARTHY: Thank you Adam.