Despite noises of concern from federal MPs in the Hunter about the adverse health impacts of polluting coal dust, Labor and the Coalition joined forces in the Senate today to vote down a motion to establish a Senate Inquiry into the health impacts of coal mining, coal transport and coal export in the Hunter.
"Hunter residents will be disappointed that today in the Senate, Labor voted against setting up an inquiry into health impacts of coal dust on Hunter residents," said Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon.
"Hunter MPs who have gone on the record with their concerns about the health impacts of the mining industry will owe local residents an explanation.
"I welcomed the support for the inquiry from Newcastle MP Sharon Grierson, but her colleagues in the Senate did not vote in favour of this urgently needed inquiry.
"Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon reportedly said he would support a productive inquiry but he did not like the Greens moving it. The door is now wide open for Mr Fitzgibbon to come through and push Labor to establish its own inquiry. It should not matter which party puts it forward.
"If Mr Fitzgibbon does not now take some action it will become clear that he is a roadblock to federal action on the health impacts of the burgeoning coal industry.
"Dozens of coal mines in the Hunter, stock piles of coal awaiting export at Newcastle Port and countless uncovered coal trains chugging along rail lines are creating a growing legacy of respiratory problems. The situation stands to get far worse if the fourth coal export terminal for Newcastle Harbour is given the go-ahead.
"A recent study by Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri confirmed what locals suspected for years - that there is an increased risk of heart and lung disease, as well as birth defects, in mining regions. Yet there has never been a comprehensive study of the cumulative health impacts of coal in the Hunter.
"The federal government, through the Australian Rail Track Corporation, plans to put more than $3.5 billion dollars into coal rail lines. It will not wash for Federal Labor to push responsibility back to the NSW government.
"The community campaign in Newcastle and the Hunter Valley is loud and growing by the day. It is only a matter of time until the federal government are forced to be accountable for their role in subsidising the expansion of the coal industry," said Senator Rhiannon.