Action on chemical exposure must continue

Friday 18th March 2016


The State Government’s promise to adopt the recommendations of the Former Lands Department Chemical Inquiry was only “a curtain-raiser” in the quest for answers for workers, Australian Workers’ Union Victorian Secretary Ben Davis said today.


Mr Davis said the Inquiry was limited to a narrow range of chemicals used by a single department in the Ballarat region, and could not be regarded as an adequate basis on which to act.


“This Inquiry was just a curtain raiser to the inquiry the State Government must now order for a comprehensive examination of the whole range of chemicals used by public sector workers, in all parts of the state over the years,” Mr Davis said.


“It would be nonsense to suggest anything short of a full and fearless investigation of what happened and what went wrong could be adequate.”


The AWU interviewed dozens of former and current public sector employees who had used and misused a wide range of chemicals under instruction from their supervisors. Many of them suffered lingering health issues which they traced back to their work.


“The next inquiry must not be limited in any way. Workers have told us about illnesses ranging from cancers, to debilitating headaches, to persistent skin complaints and other lingering issues,” Mr Davis said.


“It is not appropriate to compose terms of reference that limit an Inquiry and therefore its findings. Workers need to know the truth, and the community needs to be told the extent of the problems left behind.”


Mr Davis said it was a step in the right direction that the State Government would adopt recommendations including the provision of health screening for sprayers, the updating of a health study of workers, the review of current practices and the establishment of a Ministerial Advisory Committee with a narrow brief to oversee those processes.


The AWU would offer the expertise of its Victorian Safety Unit to assist the State Government in all its efforts to address the wide-ranging issues.


“These workers are people largely employed in regional areas, controlling weeds and other pests, who should not be treated as out of sight, out of mind,” Mr Davis said.


“Unfortunately, I suspect that what we have heard and seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.”