Orica chemical leak - Premier must stand down Robyn Parker

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Premier Barry O'Farrell must immediately stand down Environment Minister Robyn Parker as his Government's claims about when it first learned of the Orica chemical leak spiral into chaos and confusion, Leader of the Opposition John Robertson said today.

"The Premier must stand down Robyn Parker pending the outcome of the inquiry into the Stockton hexavalent chromium leak as a simple matter of probity and decency," Mr Roberston said.

"Robyn Parker has put in a shocker here. She has misled the public, failed her duty of care to the residents of Stockton and placed their health in danger.

"On Friday, she said she first learned of the chemical leak on Tuesday. On Saturday, she said she first learned of the leak on Wednesday.

"I don't believe for a minute that the Department of Environment failed to inform Robyn Parker of the chemical leak for 36 hours.

Premier Barry O'Farrell's claims that his office was not told about the Orica chemical leak until Thursday 11 August also raises questions, Shadow Minister for the Environment Luke Foley said.

"Mr O'Farrell's statement today beggars belief given that the Department of Environment now falls within the Department of Premier and Cabinet – and the Premier has a dedicated environment officer on staff. These changes were made explicitly so the Premier could give environmental issues immediate and direct attention," Mr Foley said.

"The Premier's statement is also contradicted by Minister Robyn Parker – she let the cat out of the bag when she said Mr O'Farrell's office was already 'in the loop' on Tuesday.

"Serious questions now loom over the Premier's credibility. After standing down Robyn Parker, he must come clean – what did he know and when did he know it?

"When this incident happened, the people of Stockton needed an Erin Brockovich to fight for them. Instead they got a sloppy Robyn Parker."

PREMIER FLOUNDERS IN NEW ENVIRONMENT

Under changes introduced by the O'Farrell Government, the Director-General of the Department of Environment Lisa Corbyn reports directly to the Director-General of Premier and Cabinet Chris Eccles.

This is designed to "elevate" environmental issues because they "will be given immediate and direct attention by the Premier with the guidance of [Environment Minister] Robyn Parker." (Quoting Premier's spokesman, "O'Farrell slices up land care control", Sydney Morning Herald, April 4 2011).

TIMELINE

1800 Monday 8 August - Orica ammonium nitrate facility near Stockton releases plumes of hexavalent chromium into air.

1030 Tuesday 9 August - Office of Environment and Heritage notified of leak; dispatches staff to site to inspect and collect samples.

1527 Thursday 11 August – Minister for the Environment Robyn Parker issues Ministerial Statement informing public of the dangerous incident and warning residents not to let children play outside or eat home-grown fruit and vegetables.

Friday 12 August – Workmen clean Stockton Early Childhood Learning Centre with industrial-strength water hoses after children played there for three days.

Saturday 13 August – Minister Parker changes her story, claiming she was first informed of the leak on Wednesday 10 August. She had previously said she was informed on Tuesday at which time the Premier's office was also "in the loop".