Doctor and activist

Contamination on 4 Corners tonight is just part of the tale 9/10/17.

Tonight’s 4 Corners is about the Royal Australian Air Force contaminating the groundwater around its bases with a fire fighting foam containing PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoro Alkyl Substances, aka Perfluorinated chemicals, PFCs).  It made me think of my experience with pollution.

I started off in treatment medicine, and saw all the harm tobacco did, so went into prevention. That became political activism as smoking was not an accident or a custom; it was a carefully marketed product, which also bought politicians to make sure that it could keep doing what it was doing.  As I journeyed along I found that no one was much interested in prevention if it lessened their ability to make money. 

I left hospital medicine to get a job with more civilised hours to pay the bills while I campaigned.  Occ Health and Safety in the public sector- just the shot!  Occ Health and safety always had management loudly avow commitment to it, but this was very thin when they were asked to back words with money, or to tighten up on cheap but polluting practices.  Asbestos, chlorine leaks, silica dust, work practices causing RSI or back injuries all required big fights to change practises, and good prevention was not always achieved in my career experience.

But Defence was always bad, even though they had a large budget.  A friend at my ski lodge married an aircraft maintenance engineer who got leukaemia, as did many of his workmates. They had been cleaning the back of fighter aircraft with benzene, one of the worst carcinogens known.   My friend was soon a widow with the Fleet Air Arm denying liability.  She felt that the military had a mentality where every victory cost a few lives and this applied in peace time as well as in wars.  As Kirsty, the farmer and mother on 4 Corners put it, ‘It feels like we are just collateral damage’.

When I was in Parliament a small group from near Williamstown Air Base said that the air was contaminated with jet fuel.  There is a target range there and as the fighters turn low they gun the engines, spewing out quite a lot of unspent fuel into the atmosphere.  A man called Noel was the main spokesman.  The fuel landed on his roof, and in his water tank.  He had measured the levels of contaminants and had figures which showed levels much above safe limits.  No one would take an interest.  He pointed out that the developers were buying the farmlets ever closer to the base and building houses even as he found the water was contaminated- from above interestingly, not from below.  He dropped out of the fight, as his energy ran out- he had lymphoma.  I did not believe that this was a coincidence.

After I left Parliament I went farming in New Zealand in 2010. By chance I met a very rich American who had come to buy land in NZ.  He was effusive in his praise for NZ.  It had stable government and pure water, so was ideal to grow food. He wanted to join NZ and make a contribution as well. The Kiwis were flattered, but one asked him ‘What about Australia?’  ‘No’, he said. ‘They have unstable governments that do not do anything and have let the mining industry stuff up all their groundwater’.  It seemed a very sweeping statement at the time.

A couple of years ago a stockbroker told me that I should invest in Origin Energy as they had lots of unconventional gas in Queensland and it was in an area where no one worried about pollution.  The ground water was not a problem.  Stockbrokers know these things.  (The shares are worth half what they were).

Now both Federal and State governments and both political parties are falling over themselves to give money and favours to dodgy Adani (see last week’s 4 Corners). This is despite the fact that it will pollute the groundwater and the Great Artesian Basin, our nation’s major water resource, not to mention the farmland and the Barrier Reef.  And Turnbull (aka Rhetoric Man) is pressuring the States to allow more fracking, so that he can solve his gas shortage caused by letting ‘the market’ rip unregulated.

We have to take back our country. I have come to the conclusion that political parties cannot be trusted because they can be bought.  We need Direct Democracy Now!  Decisions by plebiscites!

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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