Radio interview with Katie Woolf, MIX 104.9 Darwin 360

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The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

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Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

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20 September 2023

SUBJECTS: Independent Review of land uses around key Defence bases impacted by PFAS contamination.

KATIE WOOLF, HOST: But as I just mentioned, we know that the Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans' Affairs has just announced this Independent Review of land uses around key defence bases impacted by PFAS contamination. The Minister joins me on the line right now. The Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans' Affairs, Matt Thistlethwaite. Good morning to you, Minister.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, Katie. Great to talk to you again.

WOOLF: Yeah, thank you so much for your time this morning. Now, Minister, tell us a little bit more about this announcement that has just been made this morning around the review of land uses by key Defence bases impacted by PFAS contamination in the lead.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Up to the 2022 election, Katie, the Labor Party promised that if we were elected that we would conduct an independent review of land use around Defence bases that are contaminated by PFAS. And today we're delivering on that commitment. And we've announced that Jim Varghese will be appointed to conduct a six month review of land use around Defence bases that have PFAS contamination and advise the government about practical solutions to how we can repurpose that land and provide some support and relief for residents and communities that have been affected by that PFAS contamination.

WOOLF: Minister, this is something that those communities that have been affected by PFAS have been calling for quite some time. Why is it only happening now?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, this is an election commitment from the government and we're delivering it as soon as we possibly could. I certainly appreciate that communities that have been affected by PFAS contamination are frustrated. They've been given a run-around over the last decade. There's been numerous Senate inquiries and reports and we're making sure that we appoint someone that has the skill and expertise. And Jim certainly has over 35 years’ experience working in the public sector and 15 years in the private sector. He's dealt with a number of difficult issues for governments throughout the country and we're hopeful that he'll come up with some practical recommendations that will provide some support for those communities and ultimately try and give some relief to residents and landholders that have been frustrated and have had this inconvenience over their land for so long.

WOOLF: So, talk our listeners through exactly what the review is going to look into and how it's going to help them, particularly for those here in the Northern Territory.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the review will look at options for people and those options may include that we can repurpose the land that is adjacent to Defence bases, look at rezonings and things like that to support, perhaps defence industry and the growth of that around bases, how we can work collectively with local government, perhaps on infrastructure projects. All of these options will be on the table and will be looked at by the reviewer, but ultimately, the decisions will come down to the landholder. So, anything that we look at will be voluntary. And it's about providing people with options because I know they've been frustrated for so long, they've had restrictions on what they can consume from their land, restrictions on how they can use the land, restrictions on the use of water on their land where there's been PFAS contamination. And it's frustrating. And we want to provide people with some options and some solutions to remove those frustrations and ultimately ensure that they have value for money with their land as well, because there's been diminution in the value of land associated with those restrictions.

WOOLF: And so, in terms of those restrictions, will we have to wait until the review is complete before they may or may not be lifted? What's the situation with the restrictions?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, the review will certainly advise the government and we've instructed the reviewer through the terms of reference, to work with all three levels of government, with local, state and Federal Government on those solutions. But I should say, Katie, that Defence will continue the work that it's been doing. They've spent $681 million nationwide on remediation and removing contamination in the Tindal area. There's been $70 million spent on water treatment facilities, stabilisation of the land. That work will continue. This review gives us the option of what we do and provide relief for residents around the bases so that they can have some comfort moving forward and a bit more certainty.

WOOLF: Minister, how long is it going to take before it is complete?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: We've given the reviewer six months, so it's a pretty short inquiry. He's hit the ground running, he's conducting consultations. I'm in Williamtown today for the announcement and he's going to meet with a representative sample of people. He was up in Katherine a couple of weeks ago when we were up there, when we conducted the community consultation, Jim was there and he had some conversations with local residents, with local government representatives and Defence representatives and he'll continue that work across the country. I should also say that there's three bases that are the focus of this inquiry. They're Williamtown, Tindal in the Northern Territory and Oakey in Queensland, but there are 28 bases across the country that are affected by PFAS and anyone that lives around one of those bases or indeed has an interest in this issue can put a submission into this inquiry as well. It's not restricted to residents around those three bases. We're opening it up to the Australian people and we're keen to hear their views.

WOOLF: Yeah, I'm glad to hear that, because that was actually going to be my next question. Is it just going to be for those three communities or will it be a bit broader? And by the sounds of things, it is going to be broader. Minister, will there be further sort of public consultation as well, and can we expect that here in the Territory?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, you certainly can. There's the submission option that people can go to the Defence website that's been established and put a submission in. The Reviewer can pull out individual submissions and hold consultations with people. And there's the group consultations as well, similar to the one that was conducted in Katherine a couple of weeks ago. And the Reviewer will make himself available to local communities to hear their concerns.

WOOLF: Well, Assistant Minister for Defence and Veterans’, Matt Thistlethwaite. We really appreciate your time this morning. Thank you very much for having a chat with us.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Great to talk to you again, Katie. Thank you.


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