The rush by community activist group Voices of the Valley to finalise submissions to the reopened Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry has attracted a last-minute funding boost from the State Government.
A $17,000 grant has been awarded to the collaboration between VotV and environmental legal firm Environmental Justice Australia to aid in the costs of expert advice and further legal representation through the inquiry’s remaining submission process, which closes in the coming fortnight.
Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing said the grant was designed to ensure the collaboration could make a substantive contribution through broader community engagement and reduce the need for urgent fundraising.
“It was local workers, families and businesses that bore the brunt of the mine fire and its aftermath,” Ms Shing said.
“Through this inquiry I want to ensure that all Victorians understand the effects of the fire on people living and working in the Latrobe Valley.”
Welcoming the grant as “good news for the community”, VotV president Wendy Farmer said the legal collaboration needed as much support as it could get.
“We’ve got a lot of barristers doing pro bono work for us which is fantastic, but some experts charge thousands (of dollars) per day and this inquiry could run a few weeks,” Ms Farmer said.
She renewed “urgent” calls for community members to come forward to make further submissions to the inquiry.
“This is a really important opportunity for the community to have its say on what it needs, instead of being told what we need all the time by authorities.”
EJA principal solicitor Felicity Millner said the firm was grateful for the funding, which would help VotV retain expert advice and opinions, particularly on health impacts and air movement during the 2014 mine fire.
Community consultation kicks off
Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry hearings have officially kicked off, with mine rehabilitation community consultations in Traralgon on Tuesday.
About 30 community members participated in the Tuesday afternoon consultation, which inquiry board member Anita Roper said was designed to probe community sentiment on rehabilitation.
The rehabilitation talks centre on the Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang coal mines.
Ms Roper said the proposed outcome of the consultation was to establish three options for each mines that would become part of the formal recommendation.
Five sessions were held in Traralgon and Morwell on Tuesday and Wednesday to establish community feedback.
For more information about the inquiry or to make a submission, visit hazelwoodinquiry.vic.gov.au or phone 1300 556 034.
Focus to shift to health
COMMUNITY members will have the opportunity to be briefed next week on the progress of the long-term health study into the effects of the Hazelwood mine fire.
Two community sessions about the study will be held on Tuesday, 11 August at Kernot Hall, Morwell, one between 2pm and 4pm and the other from 6pm to 8pm.
“We want to give people an update as to how the study is developing, because it’s quite complicated, there’s different study streams and they cover different groups and different locations,” the study’s co-principal investigator Professor Judi Walker said.
The series of targeted studies will focus on cardiovascular conditions, respiratory conditions, psychological impacts, cancer, impacts on the elderly, child health and development and the impact on community wellbeing.
There will also be a large survey of adults living in Morwell at the time of the fire.
The study is led by Monash University, with assistance from Federation University, the University of Tasmania, the University of Adelaide and the CSIRO.
It has been commissioned by the Department of Health for an initial 10 years, with a government commitment to continue it for at least a further decade.
For more information about the briefing sessions, phone David O’Keeffe on 1800 985 899, email email@example.com or visit www.hazelwoodhealthstudy.org.au
There is no need to RSVP.