Mine Fire Inquiry not possible to reconvene: Ryan

RELATED COVERAGE: Residents want inquiry to reconvene

Death rate rise in Valley ‘no surprise’

The deputy premier says he is not “accepting, rejecting or otherwise” the data suggesting an increase in the death rate during the Hazelwood mine fire.

About 100 Latrobe Valley residents showed their support to reopen the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry and a coronial inquest at a public meeting on Sunday, following news the fire may have caused fatalities.

The Births Deaths and Marriages data gathered by community group Voices of the Valley and analysed by Queensland University of Technology Associate Professor Adrian Barnett has estimated an 89 per cent probability that the death rate was 15 per cent higher in the period of the fire.

It suggests 11 premature deaths in the period of February and March in the postcodes surrounding the open cut mine – including Morwell, Churchill, Moe and Traralgon.

Peter Ryan said the commissioners had finished the work they were commissioned to do and therefore it was not possible to reconvene the Inquiry.

He also challenged the data, and said in the months of February and March, that on a four-year comparison the deaths were 19 per cent less in Morwell itself.

“In the whole of the Latrobe Valley from January through ’til June there was about an 11 per cent increase in deaths over the four-year period, but that figure in itself was very similar to three of the preceding years,” Mr Ryan said.

Mr Ryan said the figures were sent to the Board of Inquiry on 14 August and had been sent on to the Department of Health for consideration.

“They are being considered in their own right, but also they will of course be included in the long-term 20 year study which is going to be commissioned as a result of the recommendations from the inquiry report,” Mr Ryan said.

Health Minister David Davis similarly rejected the data based on the Department of Health’s analysis that the death rate fell by 19 per cent in February and March.

“What I would say very clearly is the evidence does not support the contention made by a number of commentators and indeed supports the opposite contention, there was no increase in the death rate due to the fire,” Mr Davis said.

Mr Davis said experts analysing the data provided to him showed numbers had moved around in reasonable numbers, and not outside of the normal range.

“If you take a long cycle between January and June, it’s clear that 88 people died in 2014, which is not too different from 86 in 2009,” Mr Davis said.

He also noted Professor Adrian Barnett had undertaken research for the Greens party on the health effects of air pollution.

“It’s important for the community to know he’s done work for a political party,” Mr Davis said.

However, Voices of the Valley member Ron Ipsen said the Government’s analysis was just of Morwell, and did not take into account towns within a 15 kilometre radius of the Hazelwood mine.

“I think they’re trying to hide from the truth and fudging the figures to make it misleading,” Mr Ipsen said.

Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews labelled the data “very worrying” and has supported calls to reopen the Inquiry.

“(Morwell residents) were left behind, they were betrayed, now we see significant deficiencies in the Board of Inquiry’s work. There’s very clear evidence there has been a spike in the death rate during the Morwell mine fire disaster,” Mr Andrews said.

Mr Andrews said the fact this was not considered by the Board of Inquiry meant the Inquiry must reopen and look at the issue.

“There must be satisfaction for the people of Morwell that when the government say they looked into the disaster and the handling of it properly and fully, that they will actually do that,” Mr Andrews said.