Geralton and Fremantle Ports - Lead Contamination

Extract from Hansard
[COUNCIL — Thursday, 17 February 2011]
Hon Ken Travers; Hon Dr Sally Talbot; Hon Helen Morton; Hon Simon O'Brien; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon Jon
Ford; Deputy President; Hon Norman Moore; Hon Robin Chapple



HON KEN TRAVERS (North Metropolitan) [10.15 am] — without notice: I move —
That this house expresses grave concern about the handling of lead contamination at the ports of
Geraldton and Fremantle by the Barnett government.

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [11.04 am]: I rise to support the motion, and I thank Hon Ken
Travers for allowing us to debate our grave concern about how lead contamination is handled at the ports of
Geraldton and Fremantle. I would like to focus on Fremantle; my office is in Fremantle; my electorate is in
Fremantle; and I am well aware of the extreme concern the community of Fremantle has. My colleague Hon
Robin Chapple would like to discuss other ports and the extreme concern that citizens, no matter where they live
in Western Australia, have about how lead contamination is handled.

What we are debating is lead poisoning, and whether people are being poisoned by mining activities in this state
and the transportation of toxic materials through our ports. It is a serious matter, and I am shocked that we are
finding out, only today, very important information about the levels of contamination, the monitoring regimes,
and the notifications that have been given between the Environmental Protection Authority, our ministers, and
port authorities. It is not good enough for Western Australians. The public’s right to immediately know that there
has been an exceedence should be upheld by this government.

When I became a member of Parliament, our minister at the time was repeatedly asked questions by this side
about the conditions that Magellan Metals had had imposed on it, and we were assured, time and time again, that
these conditions were the strictest conditions that could ever be put on this type of export. In fear and trepidation,
we went forward as a community to see whether that was true and whether this government would live up to its
rhetoric. I, too, quote from the Magellan lead carbonate project environmental conditions, because the minister
representing the Minister for Environment has noted them. Hon Helen Morton quoted condition 10–1, which is
about the accredited auditor, and it merely states that there would be an independent auditor. We are now finding
out more information about just what that auditor discovered. But condition 10–1–4 states —
immediately reporting any findings to the CEO and the proponent of material containing lead carbonate
outside the sealed bags after a shipping container is removed from the minesite …

That was not done. That happened over time, with emails and consideration and checking, and we now know
that Magellan worked out long ago—I believe it was May—that there were problems inside the containers, and
that its monitoring devices were picking up lead that was not inside the double-sealed bags, which we were
convinced would retain this lead dust, but was outside, in the container, and it was having issues about: “Oh,
we’re not sure what’s going on with our monitoring, but we know that lead is inside that container.”

We know that those bags are supposed to be washed down at the site, the containers are supposed to be washed
down, and there is supposed to be no lead in those containers, outside those double-sealed bags. We now know
that that condition was not met, potentially from the very beginning. That is a huge concern.

Hon Donna Faragher interjected.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: A stop-work order was given, and, obviously, we are grateful for that. But we have
concern about that time lag between when we knew there were issues, and when the stop order was issued.
The Minister for Finance—the former Minister for Transport—has just advised us that he was notified on
8 November about issues. I do not know what action was taken on 9 November.

Hon Simon O’Brien: Action was taken immediately; I have just told you that.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: But the stop order was not issued.

Hon Simon O’Brien: And action was already underway.

Hon Ken Travers: No-one was told.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: I put to the minister that what we would have liked to have seen immediately was
some sort of public acknowledgment that, hey, something has gone wrong. The community have a right to know
when their children are at risk of lead poisoning—even if it is just at risk. We are not saying they are being
poisoned; we are saying they are at risk, and they should have an opportunity to get out of town and remove
themselves from potentially dangerous hazardous materials. I put it to the minister that this government is not
protecting the community at that level.

Hon Simon O’Brien: If that is the standard you want, then we should simply close every port in this state.
That’s the only way you can guarantee that, and that’s not very realistic.

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: If that is true, then perhaps we have just been given more evidence for the call that
we need a public inquiry into the safe transportation, management, handling and export of mining products and
hazardous materials. We are not convinced that is being done. If this state is going to pursue its unfortunate path
towards the export of uranium, we need to assure the public of Western Australia that it will be safe. We should
use this incident as a warning call that perhaps something is rotten in our system.

I also want to support the call for a community reference group to be set up for Geraldton. Again, this is about
the public’s right to know. That community reference group should be advised of any incident. Even if these
readings are anomalous, as the minister said previously, and they are things which are later ruled out and
discounted because the monitoring equipment is not accurately calibrated, we can be reassured after the fact; but
at least we would know that our safety is, first and foremost, being assured by the processes.

I want to know why the auditing process has failed in this case. I wrote to the Minister for Environment when all
this information came out in the public arena, and I asked for a briefing. I am still waiting for that briefing; it has
been delayed twice now. I received a very good and thorough letter from the minister, which explained what had
happened to date. I am a member of Parliament and I have the privilege of being able to contact the minister and
ask for a briefing, but I believe that the public also has a right to know. I would like the government to improve
its systems to the extent that we know much more quickly when there has been an incident and that action is
taken immediately, as the conditions specify, so that we can be assured that this material, lead, is not escaping
into our environment. On that, I can only add my support to the motion.