Hansard - Coal dust and air quality

I commence my contribution by acknowledging theNewcastle Herald Great Cover Up campaign, which has attracted the attention of many to this issue. In fact, theNewcastle Herald has a long history of campaigning for the community it serves, and the work of journalists such as Matthew Kelly and the Newcastle Herald editors should be recognised. I also thank the Hunter Community Environment Centre for its petition. The centre has voiced ongoing community concern about the hazard of coaldust to the communities that border the freight line in the Hunter, including the suburbs of Cardiff and Kotara south in my electorate.

I recently visited a couple who live in First Street, Cardiff south, about 800 metres from the rail line. They insisted that I see the levels of dust in their backyard before I left them. The gentleman wiped his hand over the outdoor furniture and then showed me his blackened palm. He told me he had cleaned the table only a few days earlier. That gentleman climbs onto his roof every couple of weeks to wash off the coaldust. He also collects roof water in barrels to water his garden and at the bottom of the barrels is black silt from coaldust—I have heard similar experiences repeated over and over again by residents along the freight line. This is also an issue of concern to parents. Some 60 schools, with approximately 23,000 Hunter schoolchildren—including my daughter—are situated less than 500 metres from the freight line. Indeed, there has been very real community concern about this issue for some time.

Both Government and industry have failed to respond adequately to this community concern. The local Hunter community must have faith that their health concerns are being treated seriously and that action will be taken. They certainly cannot rely on those opposite to protect their health. When a 2013 study found that coal train movements could increase dust levels by up to 13 times, this Government did nothing. Dust monitoring has been occurring along this freight line since 2011 but so far this Government is interested only in delaying action through more testing. I note the work of my colleague in the other place the Hon. Luke Foley, who has referred allegations of manipulated data from these studies to an upper House inquiry. We await those findings, which are due in February next year.

The Government should come clean on its plan to protect the health of people who live along the Hunter freight line affected by coal dust. The Hunter Valley has a long and proud association with coal, but no community can put the modest cost of action from industry above the health concerns of its families. My view is that we should be covering coal wagons to protect our residents—it is very much a Labor stance to protect people from the ill effects of industry. I am very pleased that the Labor Opposition is consulting with all stakeholders to develop policy on this very important issue for New South Wales and the Hunter.