The report into whether the Hazelwood Mine Fire contributed to an increase in deaths in the Latrobe Valley was today tabled in Parliament, after the Andrews Labor Government reopened the Mine Fire Inquiry earlier this year.
The Inquiry Board made two principal findings:
- It is likely there was an increase in deaths in the Latrobe Valley between February and June 2014 when compared with the same period during 2009-2013
- It is likely that the Hazelwood Mine Fire contributed to some of the increase in deaths in the Latrobe Valley in 2014
The Inquiry Board’s report also highlighted a number of failings by the former Coalition Government and the Department of Health, including:
- Mishandling the initial investigation into whether the Mine Fire contributed to deaths in the Latrobe Valley
- Dismissing community concerns about the impact of the fire on their health and the health of their loved ones
- Mismanaging communication with the Latrobe Valley community
The Labor Government reopened the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry to get to the bottom of community health concerns after they were ignored by the previous Coalition Government.
We were determined to ensure the community received the answers they deserved about whether the Mine Fire contributed to an increase in deaths and this Report’s findings provide this certainty.
Upon coming to Government we listened to residents’ concerns and took action to give the local community the immediate support they needed and deserved, including funding a new health clinic and lung function testing equipment.
Additional steps already taken include introducing requirements for mine operators to carry out risk assessments to reduce the risk of fires in coal mines.
Mining licences have also been varied to require operators to implement plans to reduce the risk of a mine fire and mitigate the impacts of any fires that do occur.
Rapid air quality monitoring capabilities have been established, as well as a State Smoke Plan to guide the State’s response to fires and other smoke events. The long-term health study in the Latrobe Valley is also underway.
The reopened Inquiry will provide additional recommendations to improve the future health and wellbeing of the Latrobe Valley to the Parliament in February, with findings into coal mine rehabilitation to be provided in March 2016.
The Report raises concerns about the Department of Health and Human Services in a range of key areas, including its approach to community engagement, the provision of public health information and the engagement and management of experts.
In response to these concerns, the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy, has directed the Department to conduct a full scale review of the functioning and resourcing of the Chief Health Officer and commence a department-wide review of the manner in which contracts for independent expert advice are entered into and managed.
The Government will also continue to work closely with Latrobe Valley communities and industry to progress implementation of all of the 2014 Inquiry recommendations, and will provide a formal, whole-of-Government response once the reopened Inquiry provides its final recommendations.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Health, Jill Hennessy
“These findings validate concerns raised by the local community about the impact of the Mine Fire on their health and the health of their loved ones – concerns that the previous Coalition Government ignored or refused to admit.”
“We committed to stand by the community and help them get the answers and support they deserve. That’s why we reopened the Inquiry and we’ve funded new equipment, a new health clinic and a long-term health study.”
Quotes attributable to Minister for Energy and Resources, Lily D’Ambrosio
“Across government a significant amount of work has been undertaken to progress the recommendations of the 2014 Inquiry.”
“We still have more work to do but we are determined to support the community to move forward, and put the right measures in place to prevent this from happening again.”
Quotes attributable to Member for Eastern Victoria, Harriet Shing
“The former Coalition Government abandoned the Latrobe Valley community at a time when they most needed help.”
“This report is a hugely important step in healing the hurt and damage of both the Mine Fire and its aftermath.”