Williamtown RAAF contamination hot election issue

INACTION: Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann, Labor candidate Meryl Swanson, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington chaired a meeting in Williamtown on Thursday for residents affected by contamination. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts
INACTION: Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann, Labor candidate Meryl Swanson, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington chaired a meeting in Williamtown on Thursday for residents affected by contamination. Picture: Ellie-Marie Watts

LABOR candidate Meryl Swanson has drawn battle lines around the Williamtown-Salt Ash contamination saga 10 weeks out from a likely federal election.

At a meeting in Williamtown on Thursday, Ms Swanson told about 30 contamination-affected residents that the issue was one of the main reasons why she put herself forward as a candidate.

“It was definitely one of the issues, that and Testers Hollow, both water-based issues in the valley, that I put my hand up to potentially represent the people of Paterson,” she said.

Ms Swanson was joined by the shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Defence and Canberra MP Gai Brodtmann, Newcastle MP Sharon Claydon and Port Stephens MP Kate Washington in Williamtown on Thursday.

Ms Brodtmann said it was sparked from the senate inquiry and concern that the government, 10 weeks after it handed down its recommendations, had not responded to them.

“We’re disappointed with the government’s response,” she said.

“There were eight recommendations handed down, three of them critical, and all the government has done in the 10 weeks since they came out is to deliver an interim report.

“They’ve had eight months to think about how to respond to this issue and all they come out with is an interim report. We think this is unacceptable.”

Ms Brodtmann said the shadow ministry had been advocating for residents and putting pressure on the government to act on the senate inquiry’s recommendations.

Salt Ash resident Peter Gillies asked the panel why voting for a Labor government would make a difference to their situation.

“We’ve been listening, and that’s the difference,” Ms Brodtmann said.

Asked by Mr Gillies why residents were always dealing with shadow ministers Ms Claydon said: “Because we’re the ones prepared to come here and talk to you”.

“This is our focus, why we insisted on a senate inquiry,” Ms Claydon said.

“We are asking why the Minister of Defence hasn’t made the time to come here and talk to you but regretfully, we’re the first cab off the rank of a much larger issue.”

When pushed by the residents on what action Labor would take if it was voted in at the federal election, Ms Brodtmann answered that the shadow ministry was pushing the government to respond to the senate inquiry’s recommendations.

“I am hoping it is dealt with,” she said. “There has been eight recommendations made. I am hoping those recommendations from the report are implemented.”

The answer, delivered repeatedly, drew angry huffs from residents not satisfied with Ms Brodtmann’s response.

Asked whether Thursday’s meeting swayed him to vote Labor in the federal election Mr Gillies said “definitely not”.

“Two other blokes here asked what they [Labor] would do if they were voted in and they couldn’t give us a real answer.

“This has become a political football; it keeps getting passed form one level to the next,” he said.

“But we expected it.

“For decades there’s been a pattern where a government coming into power promises you everything and when they get there, they realise it’s too big of a problem and don’t honour what they said.”

Salt Ash resident Nick Marshall, from the Salt Ash Community First group, said he would vote for anyone who was willing to clean up the contamination mess.

“This is the biggest issue the next government will have to deal with,” he said.

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