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Yet another brickworks?

Speeches in Parliament
Rachel Siewert 27 Feb 2006

I rise tonight to talk about the brickworks at the airport bushland in Western Australia.

As with all of Australia's principal airports, Perth Airport is on Commonwealth land. Unlike most other capital cities, however, much of that land remains bushland. The airport is of extremely high conservation value. It is highly biodiverse and has one of the largest areas of uncleared bushland left in the metropolitan area. A large part of it is listed under the WA Bush Forever plan.

Bush Forever is a plan that lists and in theory should protect all the significant remnant native vegetation in the Perth metropolitan area. It is what is left from all the industrial and housing development in Perth and it is particularly important. Unfortunately, the airport bushland has suffered a series of impacts over many years and, as late as last year, 37 hectares of bushland were cleared on this site. In 2003-04, 35 hectares were cleared. Not only were these areas cleared but other areas were drained into the remaining bushland, some of which was wetland. Perth has already lost 85 per cent of its wetlands on the Swan coastal plain, so any impact cannot be sustained. The airport land holds all that remains of the once vast five-mile swamp, one of the habitats of the extremely endangered Western Swamp Tortoise. While fragmented, it also holds valuable Indigenous heritage sites.

Unfortunately, the Perth Airport bushland is under attack yet again, and it is an attack that the Commonwealth can do something about. The community is now confronted with a proposal for yet another brickworks in the area. The proponent is BGC, a well- known Perth construction company. The location of this proposal is within a localised airshed referred to by state authorities as the Swan Valley airshed. In this locality, five other brickworks operate. You can get the message that the local community is fairly sick of brickworks. They are in Bellevue, Caversham, Midland and there are two plants in Malaga, all within a 15-kilometre radius.

These brickworks have been emitting pollutants to the atmosphere for many years and have been shown to breach ambient air quality standards for hydrogen fluoride according to the WA Environmental Protection Authority.

There are many other substances emitted by these brickworks that have not been monitored for. These include acidic gases, dioxins, furans and heavy metals, all of which are known to cause ill health at ambient conditions over long periods of time. In 2003, the Department of Environment brickworks policy review concluded that despite no clear cause and effect relationship between brickwork emissions and ill health, the weight of evidence over many years has shown demonstrable health impacts, particularly respiratory irritation and sensitivity, in the surrounding communities. The proposed new brickworks on the airport land adjoins the communities of South Guildford, Hazelmere and High Wycombe and is very close to Bassendean and Ashfield. People are living within 200 metres of this site, and I am getting the message loud and clear that people have had enough of living under this kind of chemical fallout.

The major development plan which is supposed to be undertaken for any major development on the airport land fails, in my opinion, to adequately consider the existing brickwork emissions to the local area because, as they state, there is almost no ambient monitoring data for this area. If we do not monitor it we are not going to bother to look at the impact. Yet again, we are being asked to trust the proponent. It is my understanding that the preparation of the plan did not even include a flora survey of the proposed site even though a portion of it is a Bush Forever site. We cannot underestimate the importance of Bush Forever sites in Western Australia and Perth.

Similarly, Indigenous interests have been bypassed. The WA Department of Indigenous Affairs are currently investigating Indigenous heritage sites on WA airport land and possible breaches of land clearing that have already occurred at sites on airport land. This is an area in which the Commonwealth is completely responsible for Indigenous, environmental and public health outcomes. The results so far have not been positive - some would say they are of a Third World standard.

No state government agencies have the power to regulate this site. It is unclear exactly how the federal government will regulate such an industry on airport land. We believe this needs to be given major consideration by the Commonwealth government. We believe the Commonwealth has been lax in approaching traditional owners and native title claimants for the area. It has been remiss in demanding a full environmental impact statement for this proposal. It is riding roughshod over residents' concerns for their health and the health of their children. WA agencies, at last, have got the message. But, unfortunately, the Commonwealth does not seem to.

The Minister for Transport and Regional Services has the final say on this project. Unfortunately it does not appear that you have to take into account environmental protection, public health or Indigenous heritage when considering this proposal. It is up to the minister for airports to make the call over environmental protection, Indigenous issues and public health. That is not a proper process, or the right process, for such an important area. I mean no disrespect to the minister; it is just that the process has been inadequate for dealing with this extremely important issue. It seems that this must be the world's worst practice for assessment and considering checks and balances. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, what I would call best practice in decision making.

On any other land these decisions would be made by the appropriate state government agencies with responsibility for health, heritage, environmental protection and planning laws. In fact Western Australians are very used to going through these processes. I am not saying that WA has the best processes in the world, but we certainly have a highly used environmental protection act and an agency that considers these issues. How will the public be informed of unexpected emission releases, spills, accidents or breaches of ministerial conditions -if any are set-in real time when the proponent is only required to report annually? Again, in Western Australia under our various laws we have a defined process, which the community knows how to access, requiring reporting and notification to the community.

How efficiently and with what certainty will the federal government be able to close the plant should conditions become untenable for the surrounding community or if ministerial conditions are breached? I heard here at estimates just last week that the agency monitoring ministerial conditions does not report to the community if environmental conditions are breached. Again, Western Australians are very used to accessing the monitoring of ministerial and environmental conditions.

I believe this is a classic test case for the government's commitment to sustainability. So far it is failing the test on environmental, health and Indigenous heritage grounds. I hope the government will take a second look at this proposal and reconsider its approach for the good of all concerned.

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