PFAS-affected Port Stephens residents look set to send a strong message to the Liberal government at the upcoming state and federal elections by indicating their votes will go to Labor after the party announced its plan to ban the chemical in NSW and made a $20 million commitment to cleaning up drains in Fullerton Cove, Williamtown and Salt Ash.
Fullerton Cove resident and Coalition Against PFAS president Lindsay Clout said Labor's election policy on managing and cleaning up the contamination, outlined by state and federal Labor MPs in Williamtown on Thursday, was "huge".
"This is the first time we've had this kind of a commitment from our government," Mr Clout said.
"There's two edges to it. We're actually going to get action which is cleaning the drains up. The other edge to it is that people out there in the community will see that there is someone actually trying to help them."
The federal member for Paterson, Meryl Swanson, and the state member for Port Stephens, Kate Washington, were joined by NSW deputy leader and the shadow minister for the environment, Penny Sharpe MLC, and the the federal shadow minister for defence, Richard Marles, in Williamtown to make the election commitments on PFAS.
To improve the management of PFAS contaminated sites across the state, NSW Labor has pledge that if elected on March 23 it will:
- Ban PFAS chemicals in NSW
- Conduct a select committee inquiry to inform the creation of a NSW PFAS Response Plan
- Appoint a NSW PFAS Response Coordinator to oversee all state agencies involved with PFAS contaminated sites and;
- Contribute $10m towards a drain management plan for Williamtown, Salt Ash and Fullerton Cove, which would include work to remove contaminated soil from drains
Labor has said it would commit an additional $10m to the drain management plan if elected at the next federal election, which is due to be called in the first half of 2019.
If elected at the state and federal level, Labor would contribute $10m each to the drainage management plan and the project would be carried out by the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
"The NSW Liberal Government has entirely abrogated its responsibility to manage this contamination," Ms Washington said.
"For years the Liberals have been unable to work together to achieve an outcome. Today, we're sending a clear message to affected residents and the wider community - Labor knows that continued inaction is not an option.
"We will create the coordinated response plan that the community has been demanding for years. We'll make sure it can be implemented, and we'll be working with our federal counterparts to finally see some action on the ground."
The Labor MPs said creating a management plan for drainage was a priority as PFAS in the soil and sediment of the drainage systems in Williamtown, Salt Ash and Fullerton Cove continued to leach into properties, which was a primary source of frustration and concern for the community.
While Defence is working on reducing and eliminating the flow of PFAS off the Williamtown base, the Labor MPs said the contamination issue would be ongoing if the drains were not rid of PFAS.
"As part of our package, we'll contribute $10m to begin cleaning the local drains of contamination," Ms Sharpe said.
"The Commonwealth is ultimately responsible for addressing the impacts of this contamination, but they have been slow to act. This is an important first step, and we're doing it alongside our federal counterparts."
Labor’s national PFAS policy is due to be announced before the next federal election.
Mr Clout said Labor's state PFAS policy and commitment was a good first step.
"All that it has been over the last three years is an adversarial process. We've been fighting with defence, with the federal government. Now we have state and federal Labor in our corner. That's huge. The comfort that will give to the community is I think immeasurable," he said.
"Whats happened today is, we've opened the door. There will be some people that may feel that it doesn't go far enough, that they want a Labor commitment to the parliamentary inquiry recommendations. That's going to come down the track."