Northe calls for more support

Fires have been prominent in our region from 7 February 2014 and this includes the current Morwell mine fire. 

 I have been asked on occasion of what my opinion is of these fires and what actions I have subsequently taken to address community concern. 

 Firstly and can I say, like all community members I have significant concerns with respect to the mine fire.  

Having lived and worked in this region for all of my life along with many family and friends I absolutely share many of the issues that have been raised. I have indeed expressed publicly both the positive outcomes and in addition to this, areas where I believe information and support needed to occur more promptly and extensively. 

This has been expressed frankly with local media outlets over this past week. I’m conscious of the fact that this fire is complex and that community is seeking additional information and supports. My role is to ensure that agencies, incident control, Local Government, Chief Fire Commissioner and senior Government Ministers are acutely aware of my concerns and that of my community in which I live and work. Whilst it’s ultimately up to those same bodies to make decisions and prepare responses in relation to this fire incident it is my role to advocate in the strongest possible terms to all.  

I ensure they have the community feedback to consider, and they then take the action and provide information. I have done this constantly and consistently since February 7 to all the above, and more. It’s a long standing process that in response to such incidents the EPA will provide air monitoring results to the Chief Health Officer Victoria who will subsequently issue relevant health warnings. 

 I have expressed the community views raised on health issues in the short, medium and long term.  I have requested that air-monitoring and subsequent provision of information be enhanced and increased. This includes the testing of contaminants in the air and coal ash to ensure there is an understanding of what it actually is we are breathing. 

 I am pleased that in consort with others who have likewise raised these matters that action has occurred in some areas including: 

-Establishment of the Moe Respite centre ·        

-A new community health centre in Morwell ·        

-Additional air monitoring from EPA ·        

-Doorknocking and letter box drops by emergency services and relevant agencies, particularly in Morwell South. 

But there is more to be done and that is why in recent conversations and discussions with various Government Ministers and the Chief Fire Commissioner, I have requested further support, information and consideration on a number of matters including: 

-Greater awareness of CFA methodology, strategy and resources being utilised to extinguish the mine fire. 

– Stronger clarity from the EPA and/or Department of Health on the standards applicable to carbon monoxide levels and allowances for community along with any potential health impacts. 

– Consideration for an integrated website for this fire incident encompassing all relevant information from different agencies along with a permanent “one stop information shop” in Morwell. 

– Assistance for items purchased to deal with high levels of pollution such as dust masks and air purifiers along with cleaning expenses incurred. ·        

-Ensure constant health and welfare checks are available and in particular to people residing in Morwell South including the disabled, elderly and those in aged care facilities.         

-Provision for short, medium and long term health checks for local residents.      

-Support for business in Morwell who may be experiencing difficulties due to fire incident.

– Extensive review of this fire including the response to community and to ensure we prevent similar fires occurring again in the future. 

These are just some of the recommendations (in brief) that I have proposed to the relevant agencies as a local resident and Member of Parliament and on behalf of my community for consideration and determination. I have been disappointed with some comments that I have not been active during this incident.  I assure you in the strongest possible terms that community views and calls for action have been conveyed by me to government and I will continue to do so as is my role. As noted above I am in daily conversations with all relevant agencies and personnel who are responding to this incident including those at the highest level. 

From Sunday 9 February 2014 I have on multiple occasions visited the Traralgon community recovery centre, Moe respite centre and the Morwell community health assessment centre that have all been established over this period of time. I attended a community meeting at Kernot Hall on Friday 14 February with my staff and whilst I was unable to attend a further meeting on Tuesday 18 February due to Parliament sitting, I was represented by one of my staff members.  In addition I was briefed by a number of persons post that meeting. I have met and continue to meet with community groups and individuals to understand their personal perspectives on this incident and have always endeavoured to provide the best possible assistance and care through my office along with my staff members in Katherine and Tayla. A

n example of my support and advocacy was explained in the most recent Advance Morwell newsletter where it was written and I quote: “On Monday 17th February, the Member for Morwell Russell Northe arranged for Advance Morwell’s John Guy, Max Williamson and Howard Williams to represent Morwell residents on the Emergency Management Team (EMT) teleconferences which are held each afternoon at 5.30pm. This has provided Advance Morwell with the opportunity to place questions before the team and to obtain updates on the current situation.”   Also enclosed is some general community information. I and my office will continue to ensure our community’s voice is heard loud and clear and look forward to providing support to you during this extremely difficult time. 

Yours sincerely 

Russell Northe MLA Member for Morwell