Heated debate over mine fire report

Political mileage continued to be clocked up over the Hazelwood Mine Fire in State Parliament last week, as tempers flared during the second last sitting dates before the November election.

On Wednesday the Labor opposition accused the State Government of silencing debate on the issue, after it emerged a planned parliamentary debate over the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report’s recommendations had been cancelled the day earlier.

Labor manager of opposition business Jacinta Allan labelled the reneg an “absolute disgrace”, implying the debate’s cancellation was sparked by claims of a spike in deaths in the Latrobe Valley during the fire.

“(The State Government) shouldn’t run away from this debate like they ran away from their responsibilities in Morwell. What have they got to hide?” Ms Allan said.

However the accusation drew a stiff rebuke from Member for Morwell Russell Northe, who labelled it “pure political garbage”.

“I cannot stress how much that’s just garbage – there’s been two hours of grievance debate today in which we and other members of parliament discussed this very report,” Mr Northe said on Wednesday.

“Labor were offered the opportunity to speak on the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report last Parliamentary sitting week and turned down the opportunity.

“Now they are pretending they are unable to raise it in Parliament this week. I myself have made a grievance motion on the matter just this morning and many other MPs from both sides of politics have also spoken on the report.”

However Labor sources kicked back, claiming the initial date set aside for debating the inquiry report was on 4 September, less than 36 hours after it had been tabled in parliament.

“Given that this would have given us less than 36 hours to digest the 500 page report, we instead came to an agreement that Parliament would debate the report instead on this sitting week. The Government have walked away from this,” one staffer said.

The ongoing political point scoring came as community activist group Voices of the Valley rallied on the steps of parliament to present the controversial research which claimed there was an 89 per cent chance the 15 per cent death rate was higher in the period of the fire in Traralgon, Morwell, Moe and Churchill.

While opposition leader Daniel Andrews committed to reopening the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry in light of the independent research’s findings, Health Minister David Davis rejected the data based on Department of Health analysis.