Radio interview, ABC North QLD Breakfast with Michael Clarke

Release details

Release type

Related ministers and contacts

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP

Assistant Minister for Defence

Assistant Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Assistant Minister for the Republic

Media contact

Ben Leeson on 0404 648 275

Release content

31 October 2023

SUBJECTS: PFAS Forum Townsville.    

MICHAEL CLARKE, HOST: I was just mentioning before that there's some community consultation sessions happening in Townsville today relating to the PFAS contamination issue. It's been a long running story and affecting people living around those areas of Lavarack barracks, RAAF base, Townsville. We've seen those national investigations happening, but what's happening with the latest on the process? Joining us today is the Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite, who's in Townsville this morning. Nice to see you. Thanks for coming in. For more on this, let's bring in the Assistant Defence Minister, Matt Thistlethwaite.

MATT THISTLETHWAITE, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR DEFENCE: Good morning, Michael. Thanks for having me on.

CLARKE: It's such an important topic and we've been discussing it for many years. What is the latest in the process here?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, tonight I'll be giving an update to local residents about the PFAS contamination. It predominantly happens at RAAF base, Townsville and Lavarack. And what occurs is when it rains, the groundwater moves off the base, obviously into drains and eventually into the Ross River, and that's contaminating some adjoining properties. So, we'll be giving an update on what the Defence Department is doing to stabilise that. And it's basically a process called soil stabilisation, where the affected land is excavated, carbon is added to the soil and then the soil is replaced back in the earth and that stops the contamination spreading off the base. But we'll also talk about how we can assist residents and how we can get them information about the ongoing process. And what we're trying to do is, over time, reduce that impact on residents and stabilise the PFAS contamination at the source on those bases.

CLARKE: Of course, this has been very alarming for people who live nearby and for the greater community generally, when they learned more about this. How sound is the science that you're following to make sure those areas are safe?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, the first thing that I will do tonight is apologise, and that's apologising on behalf of Defence and the government for the inconvenience that this has caused to local residents. For some local residents, it means that there's restrictions on the consumption of vegetables and fresh produce that can be produced on the land. There's restrictions on what you can eat if you're a fisher person and you fish in the local lakes and rivers. So, that's the inconvenience, as well as the effect on people's properties and their values. The science is an evolving process. At the moment, the best process for stabilising and reducing the contamination is that soil stabilisation process. In areas where we have really high effects of PFAS, some groundwater treatment is required. Thankfully, that's not required here in Townsville, but it's an evolving process and the government recently announced a review into land use around PFAS contaminated sites across Australia. It's an independent review. That review has been conducted by Jim Varghese. He's in the process of consulting with Australians and there's a public consultation that's open on that. So, any Australian can make a submission to that through the Defence website, on their views about what should happen with land that is around defence bases that have been affected by PFAS.

CLARKE: What is the process for the event tonight? Who can come and what will happen when people come along? Ask questions, basically?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, definitely. It's an information forum. Anyone can come, 6:00pm at the Cowboys Stadium. It's open to members of the public and they can come along. We'll give a report on the current process of stabilisation and what Defence is doing to reduce the impact on the community and then we'll open it up for questions. Defence will have the expert engineers and hydrologists there that work on this on a daily basis. You can see on maps where the monitoring wells are throughout the area and you can have a one on one with an expert that will answer all of your questions regarding any anxiety that people might have or questions that you have around PFAS contamination in the area.

CLARKE: I know in some cases elsewhere in the country, the issue of compensation was being looked at. Are we talking about that here? Is that another avenue for locals?

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Well, Australians have been involved in actions against the Commonwealth for PFAS contamination of their land, and some of that is residents in the Townsville area. And there's a class action that's recently been settled. There's an in-principle agreement that's been reached. It's known as the Haswell class action and it involves residents from a number of bases throughout the country, including Townsville. And that matter was reached an in-principle agreement a couple of months ago for $132,000,000. And that settlement has been approved recently by the court. So, that money will begin to be distributed to residents in the Townsville area and across Australia who've been affected. But that doesn't preclude anyone else that does believe that they've had an effect on the value of their property. They can make a claim against the Commonwealth for that into the future.

CLARKE: And so it gets underway tonight at 6:00, you said, and an opportunity for anybody to come, even if they're maybe not directly connected to this, if they live nearby or they're even thinking about buying land in that area.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, that's correct. Anyone in the local community can come along. We generally get a good roll up. The forums run for an hour and a half, 2 hours. We'll stay as long as we need to, to answer local residents’ questions. And even if you aren't directly affected by contamination on your land, if you want to come along and hear what the latest science is and the latest remediation plans, then you're welcome to come.

CLARKE: We do appreciate your time this morning and hopefully more visits, more information sessions are planned for the region.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Yeah, this is the 7th one that we've actually conducted around Townsville. It's been a while, the last one was in 2019, so it's appropriate time to update people on what we're doing. And I'll continue to come back to the local community up here and update.

CLARKE: People that is the Assistant Minister for Defence, Matt Thistlethwaite, who's in Townsville today as part of those community consultation sessions happening in relation to PFAS contamination around those military bases. And that gets underway at the Cowboys Stadium that is tonight. And everyone is welcome to attend. Appreciate your time this morning.

ASSISTANT MINISTER: Thanks, Michael. Happy Halloween to all your listeners.


Other related releases