Michelle Lensink

Site Contamination, Clovelly Park and Mitchell Park

My questions are to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation in relation to the review of Clovelly and Mitchell Park contamination.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:32  ): My questions are to the Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation in relation to the review of Clovelly and Mitchell Park contamination. What additional resources have been allocated to identify and audit the estimated 4,000 contaminated sites across the state? Why wasn't the review conducted by an independent assessor rather than the EPA itself? Where is the public apology to the residents of Clovelly Park and Mitchell Park for the government's appalling mishandling of this crisis, and is this what the minister was referring to when he told estimates last year that we need a new engagement paradigm?
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)  ( 14:33  ): I thank the honourable member for her most important questions and for giving me the opportunity again to advise the chamber about the government's proactive changes in relation to the EPA's handling of site contamination, arising of course from the Clovelly Park incident, for which I have already apologised on behalf of the government, for the way that we have traditionally handled passing on information to the public, and we now have an opportunity to talk about the way forward.

The government and the EPA have learned from this incident and have changed our procedures accordingly. As the honourable member knows, the inquiry was chaired by Ms Cheryl Batagol, the chair of the Victorian EPA. It included three EPA board members and three senior state government executives.

The review used the Clovelly Park site as a case study to capture learnings and ensure continuous improvement in the management of site contamination. It assessed the effectiveness of the system currently in place and, as I acknowledged, the failings of it, and has made recommendations for reform that include protocols and practices to reflect the community's changing expectation about the communication of site contamination matters.

The board review committee concluded that legacy site contamination in South Australia is generally well managed, but there are opportunities to improve, particularly in relation to interagency coordination and capability, as identified in my ministerial statement. The report identifies 11 recommendations under five categories. I covered that in the ministerial statement as well. The EPA is already working to implement recommendations relevant to its processes through the establishment of an executive level steering group.

Other recommendations relating to cross-government policy will require coordination by the EPA. The chief executive of the EPA will establish a working group to coordinate the implementation of these recommendations, as I said. The principal role of the EPA is to ensure that responsible parties meet their obligations under the act.

The Environment Protection Act 1993 adopts the polluter pays principle, which means that where possible the party which causes the contamination is responsible for the assessment, management, containment and clean-up of the site. The challenge posed by legacy site contamination is complex and requires a holistic response from the government. It is a challenge being faced right around the nation, as I said, and indeed across the world.

As improvements in techniques and the understanding of toxicology advance, and our ability to mitigate such site contamination constantly improves, so too must our policies change and evolve, taking into consideration those changes. As I said, I welcome the committee's review. I thank Ms Batagol and the committee for their work, which will contribute to the future management of legacy site contamination in South Australia and other jurisdictions in the country. I know the EPAs from interstate have been watching this situation very closely for how it might impact on their own functions in carrying out their act obligations. The world is changing around us, and the EPA and government must act according to the desires and wishes of the community in which we serve.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:36  ): In relation to priority number 7, the EPA appears to be stopping short of actually funding a program to update the register. Can the minister outline how much the EPA believes that would actually cost?
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)  ( 14:37  ): Resourcing of legacy site contamination cases presents problems for the government. However, we have shown in the past, with the support of Treasury, that where industry has been unable to fund investigations and remediation activities, the government is committed to working together with the EPA to ensure the state has a robust environmental regime. We will use these challenges as a catalyst for change, as we have seen in this report.

In terms of the report's recommendation 7, again a program and a funding plan that will be needed to identify and develop risk profiles and prioritise assessment of sites expected to be subject to potentially contaminated activities—such as dry cleaners, gasworks or landfills—is in the planning stages, but as the honourable member knows, any such requests for increased resources outside of the existing resources of the agency will need to go through a budget process.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK  ( 14:38  ): Perhaps if I could just rephrase the question: can the minister (and you might want to take this on notice) provide the council with how much it will cost the EPA to implement recommendation number 7?
 
 The Hon. I.K. HUNTER  (Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation, Minister for Water and the River Murray, Minister for Climate Change)  ( 14:38  ): I will not be able to make that advice available to the council until we do the work to scope that out. As I said, if that is something that we will be doing, we will be taking it through a budget process, not bringing it to this council.

 

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