Morwell Mine Fire
– proof that Government are not in control
Any form of regulations are a curse for it interferes with market forces.
Industry set the standards based on economic contribution with Government being the lap dog by its inaction.
Background - On February 9th 2014, an out of control grassfire spotted into an unprotected, disused section of the Hazelwood Coal Mine in Morwell, Gippsland Victoria. This mine is situated as close as 400 metres from residential housing.
This has now resulted in a public health crisis from the toxic smoke cloud and coal ash for the regional town of Morwell but for the first 10 days, post fire, all the government could do was monitor. Truly, that was it.
The Morwell Mine Fire has now uprooted people from their homes, land, jobs, and normal lives due to the toxic and choking smoke cloud.
Unfortunately, the lack of government interaction and response was nothing but disturbing in the first 10 days and clearly a deliberate move by the State Coalition to distance them from any form of responsibility because to evacuate or even recommend the precautionary principle would admit that the community was exposed to air pollution.
Tell no truths and you can’t be accused of telling no lies.
That is this State Government’s Mantra.
They even had the audacity to direct that Government departments in Morwell continue to operate ‘business as usual’ while many businesses around Morwell closed shop. This was to keep up the charade downplaying conditions in order to not admit the pollution was as harmful as it was.
It is for this reason that the Government will now find they are liable and will be subject to class actions in the near future because, firstly, there was a systemic failure by State Government’s regulatory agencies to ensure compliance and enforcement of mine operator and, secondly, the lack of inaction and clear directives to ensure preservation of health for the population of Morwell by minimising exposure to the physical toxic impacts from coal mine fire.
There is no other more effective measure to reduce exposure.
But that was clearly, just too hard for Government to do. They put more effort into protecting their own skins than protecting those people living within coal mining communities.
So, here in Gippsland, we have two licenced Major Hazards Facilities which include the Oil & Gas processing plants at Longford and the Paper Mill in Morwell. Our three open cut mines in the Latrobe Valley are not classified as Major Hazards Facilities. Even if they were declared it would offer no extra protection from EPA and WorkSafe Victoria.
- The recent incidents at the Esso Longford gas plant highlight that Government is more intent on protecting the big boys than the community. WorkSafe Victoria failed to ensure maintenance was up to date at the 50 year old Major Hazards Facility. The Environmental Protection Agency's integrity is seriously in question given their lack of monitoring to ensure public health was protected. All we ask is that Exxon, the parent company of Esso, does the right thing by their workers, their neighbours and the environment. Nobody wants another gas explosion like the one in 1998.
After the Morwell Mine fire public meeting on February 18, 2014 (10 days post fire), I introduced myself to the CEO of EPA, John Merrett and reminded him of the cover-up by EPA with Esso's Longford’s Gas Plant and their total lack of integrity and lack of protection for public health. They didn’t even attend the Longford site for assessment until one month after the spill and only after media pressure.
So, here we were again with EPA doing what they do best, but this time putting the Morwell community at risk.
The only reason that extra monitors were installed was because of community upheaval at that meeting. The State Government seriously underestimated the situation and thought they could present to a community meeting ‘that we continue to monitor’ and offer absolutely no other proactive advice or action that would minimise the communities risk of exposure. Then, it took a further two weeks on from that meeting for the Dept of Health to upgrade the health warning and for Morwell to voluntarily evacuate themselves as a precaution. So, nearly one month on from the fire, the precautionary principle forms part of the advice but was given absolutely no weight as to its effectiveness immediately post fire.
No, admit nothing and you tell no lies.
See story link here
What it shows is the utter lack of preparedness by emergency response teams for risk management, particularly in regards to health impacts and victims ‘sufferings’, even though Gippsland has significant major hazards in concentrated areas.
Aside from the public health disaster that the hapless Morwell and surrounding communities are enduring, those of us who know the real story are already working on making sure the agencies (DSDBI, EPA, DHS), their department heads and ministers, the engineer consultants and the mine owners pay dearly for this catastrophe.
But why should it take a disaster for regulation or the lack of it to come to the fore.
The sitting member for Morwell, Nationals MP Russell Northe, became very defensive because of government inaction and community anger.
But it was on his watch and from his government they failed to protect this community. It was blatantly obvious on the Feb 18th community meeting that the State Government were looking after their own self-interests rather than that of the public.
They knew that they failed to regulate so are ultimately responsible.
But we need to now ask why.
- Was it because there is a certain lack of integrity within government that allows business to disregard legislation?
- Was it because the Minerals Council (MCA) has an unhealthy influence over government ….
- Or was it because this government is totally inept?
My opinion is that it is all of the above!
Tony Windsor, told ABC’s Fran Kelly about a previous attempt to put up an amendment to the water bill warning his current bill would put the cosy relationship between the mining lobby and the Coalition to the test.
- Back in 2008, Windsor put up an amendment to the water bill - subsequently carried by the Senate. According to Windsor, the Coalition, supported the deal and praised themselves at the time for saving the Liverpool Plains and Darling Downs. It’s all there in Hansard. But, according to Windsor: “...that night, Mitch Hook from the Mineral Council invaded the premises and, next morning, I think for the first time in political history, the Nationals and the Liberals recanted on their vote of the night before and the bill was defeated”. Article form Independent Australia
Again the govt are in a power play situation as they have a vested interest that the truth not gets out.
Does this mean that lax environmental regulations are likely to also apply to future mines, including gas drilling, especially given the Abbott Government is committed to cutting green and red tape.
And let’s not forget the Minerals Council and their take on regulation. They appear to be the villains running government at the moment seeing State and Federal Governments are promoting all things resource.
For Depts of Health and the Environment and the future of Mining expansion in Gippsland, the potential for environmental medical risks need to be acknowledged and properly reflected in legislation.
This needs to happen at a national level with agreed national standards and protocols so any further incidents (and there will be) cannot be managed and determined by political influences.
EPA has to lose the puppet role for the government to hide the truth and grow some balls. If DHS is going to be advised by EPA as to the type of pollution and consequent action, the public need to know that this agency has some god damn integrity and its sole priority is working to protect the public from hazardous materials rather than, as it stands now, protecting industry and government from blame.