Northe: Courts need to access Morwell impact

Michelle Slater

Member for Morwell Russell Northe is calling on the courts to carefully assess the impacts that the 2014 Hazelwood mine fire had on the town of Morwell.

Mr Northe described a “sense of despair and helplessness” had fallen over the community as it waited for the fire to go out during the 45-day incident.

“It’s not for me to determine the penalties, the laws are there for companies with such breaches, it’s up to the courts to decide the penalties,” Mr Northe said.

“I think those who apply the penalties should read the mine fire inquiry to get a sense of what people in the community felt at the time.

“It was an awful time on a personal level. When you reflect back the only words I can use are horrendous. I wished it could be extinguished immediately and we could go back to normal,” he said.

Mr Northe said the local community came to him in the fallout of the fire, sharing their lack of confidence in government departments or in adequate air monitoring procedures.

“My job as a member of parliament is to try to help people. I felt helpless. All Iwanted was this damn fire to be extinguished and the fire to go away,” he said.

“The community came to me and I felt absolutely terrible and there was this overwhelming feeling of not being able to help the community when most needed.”

Mr Northe was handed the role of Minister for Energy and Resources in the aftermath of the fire when the community was still in recovery mode.

He said implementing the mine fire inquiries and Latrobe Health Assembly were two things that had come from the government of the day, which were continued by the following Labor government.

“Imposing regulations upon the mines was a focus of mine in terms of being a minister and also making sure the community was supported post-fire,” he said.

“We imposed regulations upon the mines to make sure fire prevention was paramount to make sure these incidents would never happen again.”

Mr Northe called for the Hazelwood Health Study to be rolled out to emergency service workers who were brought in from other regions to fight the fire.

“The continuation of health assessments is critically important, and this should be extended to first responders, many of whom don’t live locally,” he said.