RELATED COVERAGE: Mine Fire Inquiry not possible to reconvene: Ryan
Hands were raised in support of reopening the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and a coronial inquest at a public meeting on Sunday, following news the fire may have caused fatalities.
About 100 Latrobe Valley residents attended the Voices of the Valley meeting at the Italian Australian Club in Morwell to explain the alarming data reported in today’s Express – indicating the high probability there were 11 premature deaths during the February fire.
“We call for a coroners inquiry. I can’t see how that is not up… this is so important,” Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said.
At the meeting attendants filled out health assessment forms, asking residents what kinds of symptoms they experienced during and since the fire – including headaches, breathing difficulties, infections, chest or heart problems.
Residents also completed a ballot ranking the Inquiry’s 18 recommendations handed down late last month – as well as the opportunity to add recommendations such as “urgent mine rehabilitation” and a proposal for a Latrobe Valley ‘Health Conservation Zone’.
Ms Farmer said the meeting was about keeping the focus and attention on the Latrobe Valley.
“The recommendations and suggestions actually have to happen for this community,” Ms Farmer said.
Push for class action
Latrobe Valley residents also gathered at the meeting to gauge the potential for class action against mine operator GDF SUEZ on the basis of “negligence”.
Maurice Blackburn’s national head of class actions, Andrew Watson addressed the crowd to discuss the firm’s investigation into the fire.
Mr Watson said the Mine Fire Inquiry report identified in fairly strong terms GDF SUEZ was inadequately prepared for the possibility of a fire in the mine.
He noted this including the “mere fact that no precautionary steps were taken in relation to worked-out areas of the mine” and the company not following a recommendation for a fire risk assessment after two smaller fires in the mine in 2005 and 2008.
“Based on those failures we think there’s a case to answer,” Mr Watson said.
Mr Watson said the next step would be to work out whether there were sufficient losses to warrant spending the time and cost involved in class action.
“Part of our desire to interact today with the community through this meeting is to remind all of you and encourage all of you about the need to give us a sense of what kind of support there is in the community for class action and what kind of losses there are,” Mr Watson said.
He said potentially easier-to-claim losses included property damage from ash and smoke, inconvenience damages affecting quality of life, specific recovery costs and business-owner claims. More difficult losses would include health impacts from the fire.
“Let me be upfront and tell you personal injury losses will be at the harder end of the spectrum in terms of recovery compensation because of the way the law works,” Mr Watson said.
“We’re not giving up on that at the outset, we’re going to ask people to give us details about that and we’ll investigate it and you can be rest assured we are specialists in that area.”
Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said there was strong local interest in holding the mine operators accountable for the impacts of the fire.
“There’s a growing chorus in our community who want to find a way to hold GDF SUEZ accountable for this preventable disaster and we’re continuing to work with Maurice Blackburn Lawyers to pursue our best options,” Ms Farmer said.
Residents can register their details with Maurice Blackburn online at www.mauriceblackburn.com.au/hazelwood or phone 1800 643 211.