PFAS contamination across 23 Defence sites, including HMAS Albatross, will be under the spotlight after Labor ordered an inquiry through the Joint Standing Committee of Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade into the Turnbull Government's response.
PFAS is made up of a number of chemicals including perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS) and had been historically used in defence fire fighting foams among a host of other applications.
Investigations have been underway for some time at both HMAS Albatross and Creswell and the Jervis Bay Range with varying levels of contamination discovered.
In November the NSW Environmental Protection Agency released precautionary dietary advice for five fish species caught in the Shoalhaven River, after elevated levels were found.
A combined statement by Shadow Minister for Defence Richard Marles, Shadow Assistant Minister for Cyber Security and Defence Gai Brodtmann and Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri Mccarthy said the government’s response had been a “debacle”.
For 18 months, Labor has repeatedly called on the Turnbull Government to adopt a nationally consistent approach to PFAS management around these bases – but calls had been ignored time and time again the statement said.
Labor says as a result, communities are uncertain about their futures, confused by mixed messages from multiple sources and deeply distressed.
In Katherine, the community first heard about the risk of eating locally caught fish from Sky News - not from the Turnbull Government’s PFAS lead agency, the Department of Defence.
In Nowra, the community received one set of advice on contamination levels in locally caught fish from the NSW EPA and another from Defence.
In East Sale, it was the Victorian EPA, not Defence, who told hunters and fishers not to consume fish, eels and ducks from the Heart Morass wetland.
The statement said the chaos and dysfunction playing out at PFAS contaminated Defence sites across Australia shows the Turnbull Government has no control or oversight of this issue.
“We haven’t heard hide nor hair of the PFAS Taskforce since it was set up at the beginning of the year, the statement said
“And the Turnbull Government’s promised solution, announced in May, is yet to materialise.
“Labor will not allow this divided and dysfunctional Turnbull Government to fail Australians with its inadequate response to PFAS contamination. Any solution must be a national solution and must address all 23 Defence sites.
“The government cannot cherry pick a solution for just one or two.”