A public Commission of Inquiry into the operation and future development of the Port of Newcastle that includes investigation of the health, safety and amenity impacts of Port operations is long overdue.
I highlighted community concerns to Newcastle Council two years ago, by presenting a Notice of Motion to Council to do exactly what the community has now started. I was the only Councillor to vote for the motion and one councillor (Clr Scott Sharpe) went so far as to claim that coal had no impact on the Newcastle community!
The denial of adverse impacts from Port developments and delay in addressing the issues has got to stop.
It is the responsibility of government to understand and address the health impacts of Port operations and ensure that those companies operating in the Port are implementing world’s best practice measures to protect our health and safety.
The State Government cannot cry poor – in the last ten years more than $82 million has been sent to Sydney from the Newcastle Port Corporation in dividends and tax equivalent payments, while more than 840 million tonnes of coal was exported.
A human health and environmental risk study must be commissioned for what is the world’s largest coal Port, and it must consider the latest, independent, peer reviewed research. The community will no longer accept at face value the environmental studies of vested interest corporations.
The companies currently operating in the Port need to lift their game.
In their full-page advertisement in The Herald, Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) responded to the news of the high number of Kooragang workers suffering from cancer by saying the issue was “being taken seriously” (The Herald, 24/7).
Yet, PWCS hesitates to assure workers that they will be covered by comprehensive health insurance and at the same time can’t guarantee that their work site is safe (The Herald, 31/7).
PWCS commissioned a worker’s health study into the elevated cancer risk at their Kooragang work site after prompting by concerned workers more than six years ago. However, in their recent environmental assessment for the proposed T4 coal loader, PWCS neglected to even mention this potential link or even that the study was underway.
No wonder workers and surrounding communities are worried.
A study completed for the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage in June last year outlined world’s best practice measures to prevent dust being blown from coal stockpiles. If PWCS is unwilling or unable to put in place best practice measures for their existing operations, why should the Government allow them to operate another coal loader?
There is enough evidence on the harmful effects of coal dust, not to mention the noise and vibration impacts on local residents from coal transport and coal loading operations.
Residents living along the coal lines highlighted the seriousness of the problem with bureaucrats and the former Member for Newcastle at a public forum a few years ago.
Old time workers like Stan Hindle from Toronto (The Herald 24/7) say that Port workers knew of the toxic content in the ground on which they worked back in the 1960s.
At a public forum in October last year organised by the Correct Planning & Consultation for Mayfield Group, more than 200 residents voted unanimously for no more coal loaders at Newcastle Port.
The Government must develop a long-term strategic plan for the Port, that has at its heart the welfare and safety of the local community.
In thirty or forty years we need to be able to look back and see that we made the right decisions that resulted in a healthier, cleaner and more diverse Port.
We simply cannot afford to put corporate profit and Government royalties ahead of community welfare and our environment.
The community is demanding that we are involved as the major stakeholders in the planning and decision-making processes for the development of our Port.
The number one priority should be a public Commission of Inquiry into the Port of Newcastle – Newcastle residents deserve nothing less.
Greens Councillor on Newcastle City Council