Orica chemical leak - O'Farrell Government continues the cover up

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The O'Farrell Government is desperately shielding Robyn Parker from scrutiny – after issuing terms of reference for its Orica Chemical Leak "Review" that don't cover her dereliction of ministerial duty last week, Leader of the Opposition John Robertson said today.

"These terms of reference just allow the O'Farrell Government to continue the cover-up – to whitewash Robyn Parker's shocking bungling and mismanagement of this entire issue," Mr Robertson said.

"There are two glaring omissions here – no investigation of Robyn Parker and no public hearings.

"If Barry O'Farrell was confident Robyn Parker had nothing to hide, he would have allowed the actions of all Government Ministers to be scrutinised in relation to the Orica chemical leak debacle.

"Instead Robyn Parker has been written out of the terms of reference. The terms of reference as they stand tie Brendan O'Reilly's hands. Mr O'Reilly is precluded from making findings about the negligent role played by Minister Robyn Parker.

"The Independent Inquiry that the Government agreed to under pressure on Friday night has now shrunk into a behind-closed-doors bureaucratic review.

"This exercise is a charade unless it considers the actions of Ministers – particularly Robyn Parker who took 54 hours to tell the public of the hexavalent chromium leak after her Department was informed on the morning of Tuesday August 9.

"Robyn Parker first said she was told of the leak on Tuesday morning. She even said the Premier's Office was in the loop on Tuesday. Then she changed her story and claimed she didn't know until Wednesday.

"She only bothered to inform the public on Thursday afternoon. She squirreled away the announcement until just before Parliament shut down for the week – while Stockton residents sat there for 54 hours like sitting ducks.

"The other glaring omission from these terms of reference is there will be no public hearings," Shadow Minister for the Environment Luke Foley said.

"The 1973 Inquiry Into Pollution from Kooragang Island, established after dust pollution was carried over Stockton, and conducted by Commissioner E.J. Coffey, held extensive public hearings. Even Robert Askin gave the people of Stockton the opportunity to tell their stories – but not Barry O'Farrell."

INDEPENDENT INQUIRY INTO ORICA CHEMICAL LEAK TERMS OF REFERENCE (PROPOSED BY NSW LABOR OPPOSITION)

Inquire into and conduct public hearings: report on all matters relating to the release of emissions into the atmosphere of a catalyst used in the production of ammonia at the Orica plant on Kooragang Island, Newcastle, on 8 August 2011, including:

  1. The company's actions following the incident:
    1. The length of time before the leak was reported to the New South Wales Government
      1. timeline;
    2. How the area of impact was defined;
    3. The potential impact of the chemical on the community;
    4. The impact of the chemical on Orica workers;
    5. Orica's documented emergency response and safety plan with respect to chemical discharge or explosion;
    6. How the Chromium VI was released and how Orica became aware it had been released;
    7. The cumulative risks and impacts to the community from the possible breaches of Orica's licensing obligations;
    8. Other toxic chemicals on the Orica Kooragang site with potential to affect the community and environment; and
    9. Orica's response plan.
  2. The New South Wales Government's response following the incident:
    1. The timelines and reporting to:
      1. the Office of Environment and Heritage within the Department of Premier and Cabinet;
      2. the Office of the Minister for Environment and Heritage;
      3. the Office of the Premier;
      4. the Department of Health;
      5. the Office of the Minister for Health;
      6. NSW Fire Brigades; and
      7. the Office of the Minister for Police and Emergency Services, and Minister for the Hunter.
    2. The actions of Government departments and agencies once notified; and
    3. The actions of Government ministers and ministerial staff once notified.
  3. Make recommendations for future action that could be undertaken to:
    1. Create Community Right To Know Protocols
      1. the adoption of transparent and timely approaches to provide the community with immediate and up to date information on pollution incidents;
      2. set clear time frames to report incidents;
      3. regular independent site inspections and audits to review site safety practices and environmental compliance requirements;
    2. Improve the obligations on the company under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997; and
  4. Any other related matters arising from these terms of reference.

Hon. John Robertson MP

Leader of the Opposition

Hon. Luke Foley MLC

Shadow Minister for the Environment

15 August 2011.