A joint parliamentary inquiry has called on the Morrison government to compensate people whose property values have been devastated by firefighting foam contamination, ban the toxins and appoint a Coordinator-General to take over the handling of the unfolding environmental crisis.
In a shock departure from the Coalition's policies on the contamination until now, Liberal MP Andrew Laming delivered the landmark findings in parliament on Monday.
A Country Fire Authority training facility at Huntly is one of 16 sites in Victoria, and 90 across Australia, where elevated levels of per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals – known as PFAS – have been detected.
Mr Laming described the stories of people whose lives have been blighted by the contamination as "graphic" and "horrifying".
"No family should be trapped on contaminated land," he said.
"These communities are hurt, they're angered... the delays and inadequacies in finding justice have done enormous damage to those living there and their families."
"It now falls to the government to respond and to respond in a timely manner to those recommendations."
The chemicals have been linked to a slew of health effects, including immune suppression and cancer, and have contaminated land around dozens of military bases across the country.
Until now, the Morrison government has refused to acknowledge the potential health effects of the chemicals or to compensate people who have found themselves trapped on toxic, unsaleable land.
The federal parliamentary inquiry recommended the Morrison government:
- Provide compensation, including "the possibility of buybacks" to property owners and businesses that can prove quantifiable financial losses, giving priority to the "most seriously affected residents".
- Review its advice on the health effects of PFAS, and "acknowledge the potential links to certain medical conditions".
- Join the 171 other countries that have banned the most toxic chemical in the PFAS family, known as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS). Ban firefighting foams containing PFAS chemicals.
- Install a Coordinator-Gerneral to oversee the national response to the issue, providing leadership and working with multiple tiers of government to help resolve the crisis.
- Upscale investment in the remediation of contamination plumes, improve the national voluntary blood testing program and offer free financial counselling to affected families.
- Initiate an independent review of environmental regulation of Commonwealth land.
It comes just days after a confidential mediation was held in the Federal Court as part of class actions launched by affected communities.
The parliamentary committee argued the compensation scheme should be "flexible enough to accommodate a variety of individual circumstances" and should not prevent a person from making a future claim if human health effects are found.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.