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6PR Mornings with Gary Adshead



Subjects: PFAS, Religious Freedoms

GARY ADSHEAD: Yeah. We're going to play off straight into it because the Attorney-General Christian Porter, the Member for Pearce, has joined me in the studio. Good morning, Christian.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Gary, good to be here.

GARY ADSHEAD: Good. I saw you yesterday, I was out at - near RAAF Pearce where this issue about the fire foam suppressants rages on and people without water for three years nearly, drinking bottled water. They want mains water, they want scheme water - can you deliver?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that that's ultimately what we would want to provide. Obviously scheme water is something State Governments do, but in this case the Commonwealth should make a fair contribution to that. But there's 154 properties out there, Gary, and last night's meeting was the first time that we've had all of the results of all of the testing in so we could see it side by side.

There are 26 properties that had measurable levels of what's known as PFAS - so that was used in the fire-fighting foam on the Pearce Airbase; 11 of those 26 had levels above the health base guidelines. All those properties have been supplied, since this problem arose, with bottled water. The immediate proposed solution is a quite sophisticated filtration system on all the bores for those affected properties. But yeah, ultimately we'd like to get the scheme water there, but we're talking about 154 households where it's only tested as positive on 26, so I think there's got to be some kind of fair and balanced pro-rata contribution.

GARY ADSHEAD: How much do you want out of the state, then?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well, I think that's just something…

GARY ADSHEAD: ….about half and half? Is it half and half?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: …well I don't, I think we need to talk about that basically, but each side should pay their fair contribution to bringing scheme water out. I mean, it's desirable that scheme water goes out there in any event, as it is in other suburbs, like where I live where there's no scheme water. So we want to make a fair contribution to that, so that's certainly the argument I'll be putting in the Commonwealth Government. But 154 households, 26 affected.

The other thing we spoke about last night was that there's also an issue here about property values, and clearly there's been some kind of effect out there. And as Attorney-General, I've had a not insignificant part in putting in place what's known as a non-litigated pathway to settlement. So, if people think that they have lost property value or there's been other damage that should be compensated by the Commonwealth Government they can put in a claim through a pretty simple online process with the Defence Department and there's no need to go to litigation.

GARY ADSHEAD: Yeah, because that is an issue, because people sort of say well now there's a stink around my house, no pun intended or anything like that, but just no - a stink about the house, can I sell it? Is that going to be a problem going forward?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Yeah. Well, I mean, I think it's a clear problem and what you've got is you've got testable levels of this chemical on one property because the way that the ground water has flowed there's been a contamination on one property, no contamination at or near the surrounding properties, but obviously there's an argument that value's been affected.

So there is a pathway there for compensation that we've put in place which is low-hurdle, doesn't require litigation, should be fair and simple and relatively fast as these things go. So look, we understand the problems, the Commonwealth Government, and this is a problem. This fire-fighting foam and PFAS, it was in polystyrene cups, it's been used on every airport, every air force base, every fire-fighting station in Australia for decades. So, this is a part of a much broader problem that exists at local and state and Commonwealth Government levels and we've got to cooperate to sort it out.

GARY ADSHEAD: Just quickly, I don't know about you but I never talk about religion at dinner parties, but you are right in the middle of it in terms of the Religious Protection Bill that's been put forward. How are you coping? Are you really being torn apart by your own Party?

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: No. That's a massive over-exaggeration. The best way to avoid it is just don't go to dinner parties, Gary. It's what I do - no sport, politics or religion. But look, almost all of the states and territories in Australia have variations of discrimination law, right. The Equal Opportunities Act in WA - and they protect people from discrimination based on certain attributes - a disability, their sex or sexual orientation, their age.

Almost all the states and territories already add to that list religion, and the Commonwealth hasn't taken that step yet. All we're proposing is that at the Commonwealth level where we have a Bill, an Act of Parliament that prevents people being discriminated against because of their age or because they have a disability or because of their gender or sexual orientation, that you should add to that list the fact that they are a person of faith and that they're a religious person.

And it's pretty simple stuff, ultimately. There are some complications in drafting and we're going through a long consultation process. But this is not an unusual thing in Australian law and the principle is this: no one should ever be able to prevent you from, within the bounds of reason, joining a club or entering a public premises because of your age, or your sex or your race - why shouldn't we have a law that says the same thing about your religion? That's simply what we're trying to achieve here. There are some complexities in drafting but we're working through it.

GARY ADSHEAD: Alright, well short and sweet today, Christian, but I do appreciate you coming in and making the time. And obviously you'll be back with Gareth in no time. So I do appreciate it, thanks very much for that.

ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Pleasure. Well, you're doing a good job. I hope Gareth doesn't stay away too long [indistinct].

GARY ADSHEAD: You're not supposed to say that sort of stuff. [Laughs]