Auditing our toxic hazards


Auditing our toxic hazards


Posted 13 September 2011, by Staff, The Newcastle Herald (Fairfax Media),



HAVING been given a baptism of fire by an industrial accident that could have put her career at risk, NSW Environment Minister Robyn Parker seems disinclined to take the safety of the state’s most hazardous industries for granted.

Last month’s leak of chromium six from the Orica plant on Kooragang Island left the government wide open to criticism for its unexplained delay in warning the community. It has now emerged that government environment protection bureaucrats were worried about Orica’s commitment to its licence conditions even before the accident.

Recognising, perhaps, the extent to which her political fortunes may be affected by the behaviour of private firms operating hazardous businesses, Ms Parker has embarked on what is being touted as the biggest environmental audit of its type in the state’s history. About 40 sites across the state will be audited as the first stage of a regulatory overhaul of a sector that some fear may have been becoming complacent.

The minister’s advisers have also suggested eliminating some apparent ambiguities in environmental legislation, setting up new monitoring networks funded by industry and requiring immediate notification of pollution incidents.

If it is true – as department officers have alleged – that Orica initially advised them the effects of its equipment failure would be limited to its own site – then the government’s keenness for an up-to-date snapshot of the state of hazardous industries is understandable and laudable.

The Orica incident could have been much, much worse, for residents and for the government.

Ms Parker has said she will wait until an independent review of the Orica incident is completed before taking proposed reforms to cabinet. Fair enough, so long as the delay is kept to a minimum and the government remains committed to necessary reform.

It is hardly surprising that Labor and the Greens are keeping the pressure on the issue.

Labor’s spirited advocacy for the rights of the people of Stockton is most welcome, but the party ought to be uncomfortable at the strong implication that the apparent climate of environmental complacency surrounding hazardous industries was permitted to develop during its long period in power.

Anyone for tennis

QUEENSLANDER Samantha Stosur has put tennis back in the spotlight for Australia with her comprehensive US Open win over American sporting giant Serena Williams. To put the win in perspective, the last Australian woman to take the title was Margaret Court, in 1973.

Stosur’s calm demeanour – she remained unruffled even as Williams erupted in a furious outburst at the umpire who penalised her for intentional hindrance over a loud yell – held her in good stead as she overcame her more fancied opponent.

The 28-year-old Australian’s success in this most competitive of international sports will surely inspire many young women to follow in her footsteps.




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