Support for Senate Inquiry into coal dust crisis but Newcastle MP Tim Owen missing in action

Member for Newcastle Tim Owen is under growing pressure to address coal dust concerns. Mr Owen was noticeably absent from a crisis meeting tonight between Hunter Valley community groups and elected local, state and federal politicians and has failed to commit to any action to address the Hunter’s coal dust crisis.

“Tim Owen’s inaction on the coal dust crisis demonstrates an appalling indifference to the health of a large proportion of our community,” said Coal Terminal Action Group spokesperson John Hayes. “More than 23,000 Newcastle children attend school within 500 metres of the coal corridor yet the NSW Government is seriously considering a proposal that could treble the coal dust they are exposed to.”

Mr Owen refused to make an y commitment to action and, instead, responded by listing air pollution and health studies that have been undertaken and are currently underway.

“Further research into coal pollution and its impacts is welcome, but now is the time for action,” said Mr Hayes. “Air pollution exceeds the national standards most days in the Hunter yet Mr Owen and the NSW state government is fast-tracking a fourth coal terminal.”

The meeting was called in response to a spate of air pollution alerts and exceedances in the Upper and Lower Hunter, and a University of Sydney report into the health and social harms of coal mining in the Hunter. Elected representatives were requested to communicate their commitment to action. NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon told the meeting she would seek support on 21/11 for an inquiry by the Senate’s Community Affairs References Committee. The proposed inquiry has the support of Newcastle’s Federal representative Sharon Grierson.

“We welcome Senator Lee Rhiannon’s proposal for a senate inquiry into the health impacts of coal mining in the Hunter Valley and urge the region’s federal representatives to endorse the inquiry,” said Mr Hayes. “We are alarmed that Federal Minister for the Hunter Joel Fitzgibbon may oppose the proposed inquiry simply because it was initiated by the Greens.”

The growing alliance of community groups opposed to T4 met recently with senior Opposition parliamentarians. Shadow Planning Minister Luke Foley was unable to attend tonight’s meeting due to poor health. Shadow Health Minister Andrew McDonald indicated his position on T4 by stating the first precept for medical practitioners: “First, do no harm.” By massively increasing coal exports through Newcastle, T4 would increase lung and heart disease, asthma and other health problems.

The meeting resolved to:

  • call on the NSW Government to freeze development of new coal projects until the Hunter health crisis is resolved
  • call on all Federal parliamentarians to support the motion before the Senate, for an inquiry into the health impacts of the Hunter coal industry.
  • congratulate Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson for her support for the Senate inquiry
  • call on the NSW Government to stop ignoring the recommendations of its own Health Department, in relation to coal dust and
  • encourage local residents living near Hunter coal infrastructure to have lung function tests.

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