Speeches Environment and Water | September 11, 2019

Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill 2019

Victorian Parliament - September 11, 2019 Ms KEALY (Lowan) (18:27:54): I am so pleased I am able to make a contribution on the Dangerous Goods Amendment (Penalty Reform) Bill 2019. This is because in my electorate of Lowan it has been found that we have the largest ever illegal toxic waste dump in Victoria’s history. The reason that I want to spend the majority of my contribution on the significant dump site is because when I have listened to the Labor MPs who have been contributing to this debate, even though this bill is around toxic waste dumps, there have been many that have mentioned the factory sites in Melbourne but not one has bothered to mention the site in Kaniva, which has 50 million litres of toxic waste which is threatening our local agricultural region. It is threatening our local waterways. It is threatening the health of our local community. Even though we have got this on record, even though the government is aware of this and even though we have got legislation that supposedly would deal with the matter, the government is silent, and it is simply not good enough. We have heard from various members about the impacts of the factory fires, and I honestly feel for the people who live in those regions, because it is extraordinarily difficult to deal with the lack of a Victorian system for how we manage toxic waste in this state. It is very, very similar to the recycling crisis that we face in the state of Victoria at the moment in that the government over the past five years knew that there was an issue around recycling, they knew there was an issue around the management of toxic waste, and they have refused to deal with it. As a result when it comes to toxic waste management in the state of Victoria we have seen the development of a black market. There is no accountability or responsibility for the businesses who are creating this waste to ensure that it is disposed of in a way which protects our people, our property, our waterways and our agricultural regions. Unfortunately, due to the Labor government’s lack of action in this area, we now have this mega deposit—this largest ever toxic waste dump in Victoria—which is not being dealt with appropriately. I note that this bill has two main purposes. One is around increasing the penalties of various offences to reflect the serious nature of those offences, and there is also the element of creating a new offence for reckless conduct in respect of dangerous goods that endanger life. I would like to put this framework on top of the Kaniva issue to see whether it would really make much of a difference. The majority of this bill refers to activities which place a person in danger of death. While this is an enormous toxic waste dump in Kaniva, it will not directly put a life at risk, and therefore the majority of this bill does not actually deal with instances where people are dumping toxic wastes in dugout pits in areas of Victoria where there is not a high density population. So the only element of this bill, which is supposedly going to be this significant deterrent for people not to follow the acts of others and create toxic waste dumps in remote areas of Victoria, is one element which is about endangering people, property or the environment, which will result in an increase of penalty from $165 000, or four years imprisonment, to $297 000, or five years imprisonment. Now, if nearly $200 000 and four years imprisonment was not enough of a deterrent beforehand, there is absolutely no way that $300 000 or five years imprisonment is going to act as a similar deterrent. We are not dealing with this in a way which is going to make a fig of difference to people who live in remote areas of Victoria where the greatest threat of toxic waste is the threat to our local environment. It is the threat to our waterways, which we rely on to supply water for not just our communities but also for our agricultural regions. This is prime growing country through the Kaniva region. They have had a great season this year; the crops are looking absolutely amazing. But we have got this worry in the community of 'What’s the impact of this waste?’. Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA) have been absolutely dragging their feet when it comes to dealing with this issue. That comes back to the government of the day and the minister of the day. It is absolutely unacceptable that the EPA and the government first became aware of the site at Kaniva in July 2018, over one year ago, and it was over a year before the EPA finally briefed the community about it. They kept this secret from the community for over a year. Why did the government insist on keeping this a secret when it poses such a significant risk to our local area and our local productivity? It is completely unacceptable how the government have dealt with it, and still the government are dragging their feet, still there is no confirmation of when this site will finally be cleaned up. Fortunately we have had some discussion in the media, and that got the EPA moving along a bit. I started asking some questions; I have been speaking to the local community and helping them to vocalise their concerns as well. Fortunately it looks like we are seeing some action. Only last week—so well over a year since the discovery of this site—the owner of the property was finally issued with a clean-up notice, but the details still have not been made public about what the elements are around that and about the time frames. I have asked about that. I had a briefing on Monday, and there was no information given at that time—it was not available—as to what actions have been put on that owner, so that we can provide that vital information to the community. It has not really gone out anywhere so the community has not had the information to develop their own risk plans. I was amazed when I spoke to the Kaniva community last week. There are adjacent landholders who have significantly different amounts of information available to them. Some of them disclosed that the EPA have actually taken action to bury some of the toxic waste because it is so flammable. It is extraordinarily unbelievable that the EPA are dealing with an issue like that where they are actually burying waste underground rather than taking the action that is required, removing it from the site and just saying, 'We’ve got to take care of this. We’ve got to take care of the environment. We’ve got a responsibility to the environment, not a responsibility to a person who has form and history with other dump sites around the state of Victoria’. In particular I believe there are up to 13 factories which they also own, which has been the subject of other debate today. So why is Kaniva put last? Why is it that the further you live from Melbourne, the lowest you are on the list when it comes to this government dealing with your issues? This has an enormous impact on Victoria’s productivity. We are a huge growing area. If this area is contaminated in any way at all, it will have a huge impact on Victoria’s reputation as a growing region and also for the GDP. It is an enormous risk to our region, and I demand that the government and the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change finally take this seriously. There are a range of questions which must be answered by the minister but have not been answered by the minister. It is an enormous priority, and this bill will not deal with it. The locals want to know what is in this waste, and how much there is. I am astounded that still the community do not know how this toxic waste is stored. I believe that some is stored in 1000‑litre plastic drums and the rest of the waste is in 205‑litre drums, which might be plastic but might be metal. They might be corroded metal and leaking into the ground. We do not know. The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has put bores down in the area. The bores go down into the aquifer, which is 60 metres down. If any of this toxic waste leaches into the ground immediately below where it is buried, it could go into our waterways, which flow directly into the Kaniva water supply. It needs to be dealt with quickly, and the only way to appropriately deal with it quickly is to clean it up and get rid of the waste. This is not something that needs to happen over some longer period of time; it needs to happen now, and the government has accountability and responsibility for that. I realise there are steps that need to be gone through, but I am absolutely astounded that it had to wait for a year before a clean‑up notice could be issued. I realise that the owner of the property was in prison at the time, but what if they have been in prison for 20 years? What happens to the region then? If the EPA are not going to take appropriate action to protect our region, protect our environment, then what is their purpose? And if they have got a good purpose, why isn’t the minister holding them to account? Why isn’t the minister holding them to the existing requirements, regulations , fines, penalties and offences that are currently in place, because we are not seeing that at the moment? We need to make sure that the community get answers and they get answers soon. I know there are a number of questions, including: what is the waste, how much is there, but most importantly when are you going to clean it up? When is it going to be cleaned up? They also want to know why the EPA took too long. That will be the subject of further investigations, I am quite sure. I would like to say that I thoroughly support the amendments put forward by the member for Ferntree Gully, in particular the requirement to note the address of premises and the quantity of dangerous goods. There was a property sold adjacent to this land dump during the finding period, over the period of the EPA knowing about it, and it was sold. This amendment really needs to be supported by the government to make sure the community have transparency.

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