Community needs answers: Northe

Member for Morwell Russell Northe has called for any review of the Hazelwood mine fire to include an investigation into the management of the community’s health and wellbeing.

It comes after Mr Northe criticised government agencies for their initial handling of the smoke crisis.

“I have no doubt there will be a review of the fire itself,” Mr Northe said.

“My personal view is the community aspect would be part of that overall review.”

Mr Northe said in the early stages of the smoke crisis when the community was seeking answers, particularly around health, the messages from government departments and agencies were slow and inconsistent.

“I don’t want to chastise anybody personally,” Mr Northe said.

“But I’m not sure some agencies at the highest level understood the community angst and concern about this particular incident.”

Mr Northe said in the middle of the week of 10 February he started to express concern “the information being filtered to communities wasn’t clear enough”.

“It’s been difficult to have those concerns acted upon in a timely manner,” Mr Northe said.

He conceded, however he could have fought harder.

“I could have been banging down ministers’ doors more vigorously,” he said.

“The difficulty has been, essentially now we have two incidents, the fire itself and the health and wellbeing of the community and I think with the separation of those two incidents, there was a lack of control and leadership in the community aspect.”

Mr Northe defended his absence from Tuesday night’s public meeting on Morwell, as Parliament was sitting.

He said he had a representative attend.

“Of course I would have been there if I was able to,” he said.

“The Labor Party was gracious enough to grant me leave on Wednesday after question time which allowed me to visit the newly-established respite centre.”

Mr Northe welcomed Wednesday’s establishment of the respite centre at the Moe Town Hall and Friday’s opening of a health assessment centre at Ambulance Victoria, Saskia Way, Morwell.

He said he was buoyed by the ramping up of EPA air monitoring in the past few days and visits by Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Rosemary Lester and Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley last week.