Rutherford Air Quality

In 2014, an ambulance was called to attend a Spotlight store at Rutherford because three employees had been overcome by fumes from the so-called "Rutherford stink". At that time, I was the Labor candidate for the seat of Maitland. The Rutherford stink has been reported for about 20 years. My constituents have reported to me and former members for Maitland extremely negative health impacts and concerns about the foul smell. They have suffered sore throats, bloody noses, itchy eyes, and been unable to sleep with the windows open. They described a smell so vile and thick that it seemed to settle in their bedrooms.

A former member for Maitland and Minister for the Environment in this Government—that is, before she was sacked by the Premier in 2014—promised during the 2011 election campaign that a Coalition Government would eradicate the stink. Indeed, it promised to spend $400,000 to address the issue. However, I have been told that on taking office members opposite went cap in hand to a number of local businesses requesting contributions to fund the Government's promise. I understand that they later backed down from this disgraceful proposition and the Government funded the study. I have had representations from many members of the community, ex-employees, workers and those who have requested assistance and reported the issue to the Environment Protection Authority [EPA]. Members of Rutherford Air Quality Liaison Committee and the community reference group on this matter have told me they also requested that health studies be undertaken because of community complaints, fears and experiences. However, the Government failed to act.

The complaints continued when I was elected to this place. I raised the issue with the EPA, but its initial response was "we all have to live with bad smells". I then sent out surveys to about 8,000 residents living in areas from which I had received complaints about the stench. Concerned residents also asked me to survey individuals about any health issues that they believed were linked to the stink. Of the 8,000 surveys I sent out, about 100 were returned. I give praise, and have given praise to the Minister for the Environment, his staff, the EPA, and Hunter Water, who have taken my comments seriously and have continued to work with me on this issue.

On an unrelated matter, Hunter Water undertook an investigation earlier this year into the alleged disposal of perfluorooctanesulfonic acid [PFOS] and perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA] at the True Gain facility, also known as Australian Waste Oil Refineries. When I was advised of this by Hunter Water, I spoke to the EPA and asked what action it was taking to address this issue. I was informed that it was at a stage in investigations at which compliance and enforcement actions would be taken shortly. I make it clear to the House that I have never publicly named and shamed any organisation or company or blamed them for the Rutherford stink. As a former small business operator, I understand the damage that can be done by unsubstantiated public shaming. I have worked with the Government proactively and cooperatively to improve the health, social amenity, and comfort of workers, residents and businesses in my community. I might add, I did that at the request of workers, residents and businesses. My investigations and advocacy were on behalf of my community.

Earlier this year when the traditional increase in complaints about the stink did not happen, I was advised by a number of community members and businesspeople that they had not detected it for some time. I asked the EPA to provide me with information about the complaints it had received over the past 12 months, and they indicated a significant decrease. My community has been concerned about this issue for 20 years, and it has experienced first-hand this Government's arrogant treatment.

After the Government cut the rail line and announced that our long-promised hospital would be delivered at a time to be advised, our community deserves a win. I am pleased to share this good news with the House and to give credit where it is due. This month I wrote to the residents I had written to last year to advise them that the number of complaints about the odour had reduced dramatically. I give due credit to the Environment Protection Authority and to Hunter Water. Most importantly, I thank residents for their persistence and resilience in this matter.

When I became aware of the closure of the Truegain plant and the impact on employees, I spoke to the Australian Workers' Union about those employees. As a Labor member of Parliament, I am always concerned about the payment of wages, superannuation and other liabilities owed to workers affected by company closures. There is no excuse for not paying employee entitlements. New South Wales will be watching to ensure that the Government takes steps to make this company meet its liabilities to employees. I offer my support to all workers in their claim to receive those entitlements.

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