Coroner rejects mine fire death data

THE Victorian Coroner has rejected an investigation into data suggesting an increase in the death rate during the Hazelwood mine fire.

Activist group Voices of the Valley spearheaded the inquest after finding a 15 per cent increase in the death rate in the period of the fire – an equivalent 11 deaths – in the neighbouring four postcodes of the open cut mine using Births, Deaths and Marriages data.

In a letter to the community group, the Victorian Coroner said an investigation would be a “duplication” of the 20-year health study into the effects of the mine fire.

The Department of Health’s analysis of the death data indicating an “insufficiency of the study” and the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry’s “comprehensive investigation into the origin, circumstance and other issues associated with the fire” were also noted.

“The failure to provide relevant information to the Inquiry prior to the deadline is not a sufficient reason for a duplicitous expenditure of resources,” the 11 November letter stated.

Voices of the Valley president Wendy Farmer said she was extremely disappointed by the decision considering the Inquiry sent the data to the Victorian Health Department and coroner.

“They basically said it was an important issue that needed to be looked at further, but the data was too late to be included into the Inquiry,” Ms Farmer said.

She also indicated concerns the health study would be censored.

“Our feelings are the health study hasn’t started yet. It’s too long for us to wait to find out if people died from the Hazelwood mine fire or are continuing to have heart attacks, strokes or aneurisms,” Ms Farmer said.

Opposition leader Daniel Andrews had demanded the State Government reopen the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry in light of the data in September.

Morwell Labor candidate Jadon Mintern said it was disappointing the coroner had decided it was not within their jurisdiction to investigate these statistics.

“The aim of the health study is very much a long-term study, and what people are looking for now is statistical analysis of whether the smoke caused a spike in deaths during that time so that we can make a more immediate response and any possible response to that,” Mr Mintern said.