Inquiry into the Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Victoria
I am pleased to rise to speak to the report of the parliamentary inquiry into the health impacts of air pollution in Victoria, tabled in November 2021. I rise to speak to it now following my initial comments back then, because it has been six months since the report was tabled yet the government has not formally responded to the inquiry report as it was required to. This only compounds the government’s extraordinary delay in releasing its air quality strategy that was due for release in 2019 after community consultation occurred in 2018.
This air pollution inquiry was one of the most important this Parliament has conducted, because it exposed the really serious issues with air pollution that communities in Victoria have been asked to endure despite very strong evidence that this pollution is making people sick. It also exposed the lack of government action for decades, despite mounting evidence and pleas from the communities to act. The inquiry found amongst a range of findings that there is a need for improved governance, including the need to release the air quality strategy and review conditional licences for heavy industry. Consultation was often poor with communities and must improve. Also an area for improvement was the need to improve ongoing communication with communities.
It found that communities in the Latrobe Valley and inner west of Melbourne suffer with poor air quality and high pollution, and this leads to adverse health outcomes. It found that there is a need for clean air shelters and clean air zones, and it found that wood smoke from domestic heaters is a significant polluter and there is a need to phase them out. Vehicle emissions are a highly polluting source of air pollution in Victoria, and we need to transition to low-emissions transport such as public, active and electric transport. We also need improved air quality monitoring in this state.
As I mentioned in my minority report, evidence provided throughout the inquiry:
… told the story about what happens when people are ignored and forgotten by governments, representatives and agencies who are supposed to care for them. It also told the story of how unequal health outcomes are created and worsened by government inaction. The people of the Latrobe Valley and Melbourne’s Inner West are being asked by the Victorian Government to continue to put up with more air pollution because the Government refuses to legislate and regulate strongly enough to prevent damage to their health and wellbeing.
Further quoting from my minority report, I mentioned that while I supported the majority report, it:
… fails to acknowledge the disease burden that these communities are asked to carry and the—
… types of interventions that could improve air quality. There are also several gaps in the majority report in terms of findings from the evidence submitted. I am disappointed that the committee did not appreciate that making strong and clear findings was an important way of evaluating and reflecting the strength of some of the evidence presented.
Furthermore, I noted in my minority report, and I quote:
For communities that have attempted to increase awareness for years about the air pollution risks they face, this inquiry was an opportunity to acknowledge their concerns and document the evidence they provided. Their attempts to do this are too often minimised and dismissed by those who either don’t wish to take strong action or refuse to accept the evidence. I felt it especially important to document in this minority report the concerns raised by the communities of the Latrobe Valley, Melbourne’s Inner West and those who have been advocating for reducing the harms of wood smoke exposure because the majority report did not adequately capture the evidence they submitted and presented.
I urge the government to release the long-overdue air quality strategy immediately, as well as its response to this parliamentary inquiry. To delay it even further is to treat the community and the parliamentary committee process with contempt, and once again I reiterate my thanks to the incredible community organisations, advocates and individuals who presented to the inquiry. They provided such rich and compelling evidence about the need to improve air quality in Victoria now.