THE death’s head posters are dotted here and there at Williamtown.
They’re far enough up power poles that you know someone’s taken a bit of time and trouble to put them there, but not too far up that you can’t see them clearly.
They’re a warning to motorists–you’re now entering the red zone, where contaminated waterfrom Williamtown RAAF Base has been leaking for years.
It hasn’t been one year yet since that lateannouncement by the NSW Environment Protection Authority on September 3 that shocked the community. Residents werenot to drink bore water, or eat eggs from backyard chickens or fish caught nearby.Commercial and recreational fishing and oyster harvesting werebanned in Tilligerry Creek and Fullerton Cove.
And from there the news has just kept getting worse. The circle of departments and institutions that knew of the contamination –but didn’t think to tell the public –kept getting bigger. And relevant politicians, with a few notable exceptions, kept their heads down or stayed away.
About six weeks before the first anniversary of Contamination Announcement Day, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced his new Cabinet. While the media focus has been on the number of conservatives, Nationals orwomen, in the Hunter the most significant news is Defence Minister Marise Payne’s loss of key portfolio responsibilities to Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne.
The position of Assistant Defence Minister has been abolished in the reshuffle.Ms Payne’s office appeared to be in the dark about who would be responsible for Williamtown contamination issues from now on.
So it hasn’t even been a year and already Williamtown people –sitting in the red zone with their lives and businesses in limbo through no fault of their own –have had a succession of relevant government ministers, but just one apparent message. The Federal Government does not consider the Department of Defence’s pollution of land and water around Williamtown RAAF Base for many years as a significant issue.
On Monday the EPA announced the Department of Defence had released adraft report into the human health risk assessment of the contamination. In a matter of weeks some things will become clearer.