PRIVATE MEMBERS’ STATEMENTS
DIP SITE CONTAMINATION COMPENSATION
Mr RIXON (Lismore) [5.07 p.m.]: I draw to the attention of the Minister for Agriculture and the House a problem that many farmers feel may arise in the future and the concern that that fear of the future is causing now. The problem which may arise revolves around who may be asked to pay for the clean-up of contaminated cattle dip sites. Around the immediate area of a dip site the ground may, over the past 50 years or more, have received a splash from the bath or drops of water from the cattle that have been through the dip. Through this process the soil may have become contaminated with poison from the bath used to kill ticks. The two problem poisons are arsenic and DDT.
Over the period various New South Wales State governments, with the best of intentions, ordered graziers to dip their cattle in the poison solution as part of programs to control and eliminate ticks in New South Wales. In reality the New South Wales Government leased the ground on which the dip bath was built and took full responsibility for the conduct of the cattle tick control program. It has only been realised in recent times the extent to which the soil was contaminated by poison residues and the possible dangers caused by the residues.
Much discussion, which has not yet produced a satisfactory clean-up method, has been stimulated and a discussion green paper as to who may pay for the clean-up of polluted soils has caused concern. The discussion paper "Managing Contaminated Land in NSW: Proposals for a New Legislative and Administrative Framework. A NSW Government Green Paper" suggested that those who caused the pollution may be forced to pay for the clean-up of the contaminated soil. The discussion paper did not suggest who should pay for the clean-up of cattle dip sites; indeed, it was seen by many as ambiguous about this matter. Recommendations 4 and 5 seemed to be of special concern. Consequently, as the Board of Tick Control gradually changes its programs to meet changing situations, with more responsibility being placed on farmers, who will pay for clean-up of the dip site becomes an important question. This is especially so when some scientists have suggested that it could cost as much as $250,000 per dip site to remove the contamination from the soil. In 1985 many stock owners agreed to accept responsibility for the management of the dip facilities, and clause 3 of the agreement they signed said in part:
Provision was made for the stock owner or Minister to withdraw from the agreement at any time. Now the program has changed again to a search-and-destroy operation, with many dip sites being handed back to their former owners. An appropriate agreement has been drawn up to be signed by the owner of the site, and farmers’ concerns that they may be accepting responsibility for past contamination were addressed in a letter to them. The farmers were told, "these arrangements are not designed or intended to transfer responsibility for past contamination of dip sites to future users".
Although that statement is quite clear, the insecurity some farmers are feeling about their possible acceptance of responsibility for clean-up costs is, in a number of cases, hindering the orderly progression of the tick control program. I am sure the Minister understands the difficulties and may explore ways to ensure that farmers are confident that they will not be forced to bear the massive cost of cleaning up contaminated dip sites. All farmers in New South Wales want the cattle tick control program in this State to work successfully. They would welcome any form of assistance from the Minister.
Mr AMERY (Mount Druitt - Minister for Agriculture) [5.12 p.m.]: I am well aware of the concerns expressed by rural land-holders who have cattle tick dip sites on their properties. Last year I met with the Board of Tick Control and subsequently with the Minister for the Environment to discuss these concerns. The Department of Agriculture has also had lengthy discussions with the Environment Protection Authority and other concerned government agencies, as well as land-holder groups and their representatives. As a consequence, I was able to gain some clarification as to the way in which the proposed contaminated land legislation will operate in respect of dip sites.
In particular, it seems unlikely that more than a very few sites, if any, will fall within the scope of the legislation. For those that may fall within the scope of the legislation, clean up is an extreme option. Other remedial measures such as closing down the dip, fencing and/or revegetation are likely to be sufficient. The Department of Agriculture already has a program in place along those lines and - given that there is no legally acceptable means of cleaning up the majority of these sites in any case - clean up cannot be practically considered as an option. Responsibility for remediation action, if required, is generally directed to the occupier of the site. The Government leases the majority of dip sites and is therefore the occupier.
I have undertaken to renew leases that would otherwise expire if land-holders want the Government to retain responsibility. In addition, my department is currently undertaking research to develop an effective, economically feasible technology to remediate arsenic- and DDT-contaminated soils. This program is in its early stages but already there are some promising results. I believe that all these factors should allay the concerns of dip site owners. However, should a problem arise on a particular site I would be happy to examine it in the light of the circumstances at the time and in the light of the concerns raised in the House by the honourable member for Lismore, who can rest assured that I am aware of the concerns of land-holders and will be making sure that they are not left with the responsibility of cleaning up the dip sites. My contribution this evening should at least clarify who is the occupier of those contaminated sites.
The Minister hereby agrees that he will indemnify each and every stock owner and co-ordinator against all actions, suits, claims, demands, proceedings, losses, damages, compensation, sums of money, costs (including Solicitor and client costs) changes and expenses to which a stock owner or co-ordinator may be liable in respect of any injury to any person or property of whatsoever nature or kind and howsoever sustained or occasioned to any person at or upon or in connection with the said land and facilities. This indemnity shall apply notwithstanding that any of the terms or conditions of this agreement are breached by a co-ordinator or a stock owner who is party hereto, or their agents or servants.