Voices of concern

Fears the Hazelwood Mine fire smoke crisis would be “swept under the rug” was the main concern of Latrobe Valley residents at a forum held at Kernot Hall, Morwell on Sunday.

The afternoon was a chance for community group Voices of the Valley to collect evidence and signed affidavits from residents before it hosted its own inquiry headed by a legal professional.

Morwell resident John Biram was among those to share their experiences in the wake of the fires on stage in front of about 100 people, which included Latrobe City councillors Christine Sindt and Peter Gibbons.

The 78 year-old said he suffered a heart attack last Sunday as a result of a pre-existing condition aggravated by the smoke and the stress it carried with it.

“This has knocked the living daylights out of me,” he said.

Mr Biram said his affidavit focused on what could have been done to prevent the fire, rather than authorities’ management of the situation.

He said he saw the afternoon as an opportunity to ensure his and other’s stories were told.

“I just feel as though it’s a back stop in case this all gets swept under the carpet by the bureaucracy,” Mr Biram said.

His views were echoed by many residents, who were not confident the State Government’s recently-announced inquiry would go far enough.

Many spoke of their frustrations at not qualifying for relocation assistance because they did not meet the criteria.

Others were outraged more funding had not been provided for the clean-up effort.

One resident, who did not want to be named, said she appreciated the support she had received at this and earlier community meetings and felt a sense of camaraderie between herself and others affected.

“We have to work together, because nobody hears us,” she said.

Voices of the Valley president Simon Ellis said the group had sought a scientist or legal professional to volunteer to head the inquiry.

Mr Ellis said once organised the group would proceed with a formal inquiry and host another community forum.