Senate inquiry to hear of Defence contamination land acquisition proposal

A FORMER Williamtown RAAF Base commander will tell a parliamentary inquiry that a Department of Defence scheme to buy and develop fire-fighting foam-contaminated land across Australia could eventually pay for itself.

John Donahoo said such a scheme would address Defence’s need for noise buffer zones around sites such as Williamtown, and provide social justice for affected landowners.

Mr Donahoo, of Medowie, will tell a parliamentary inquiry on July 24 that a ball park figure for such a scheme was about $2 billion, and Defence Housing Australia was well placed to administer it.

In a submission to a Senate inquiry investigating the management of Defence sites contaminated by toxic per- and poly-fluoroalkyl chemicals (PFAS), Mr Donahoo estimated a buy-back scheme for Williamtown properties could cost $500 million, but could be staged over more than a decade.

“Many PFAS-affected landowners at Williamtown have advised they would not wish to sell their land now, but would like a guarantee from the Australian Government that they could sell at some time within the next 15 years, and at that time they would want to be paid market value as if it was not affected by PFAS contamination,” Mr Donahoo said.

The government’s refusal to provide voluntary acquisition has tormented and distressed PFAS-affected landowners. These are not the actions of a decent government.

Former Williamtown RAAF Base commander John Donahoo

Such a position was consistent with the Federal Government’s current refusal to compensate landowners or buy out properties, based on a view that the link between PFAS and health impacts was “weak and inconsistent”.

Mr Donahoo strongly criticised the Australian Government for leaving affected landowners in limbo, with properties that the NSW Valuer-General acknowledges have lost 15 per cent value, but which many residents believe is closer to 50 per cent, and against which banks are not prepared to lend.

“The PFAS disaster is man-made and was caused directly by the Australian government, albeit unintentionally,” Mr Donahoo has said in his submission.

“The government’s refusal to provide voluntary acquisition has tormented and distressed PFAS-affected landowners. These are not the actions of a decent government.”

Mr Donahoo repeated arguments he made in 2015 after the fire fighting foam contamination scandal became public – that Defence could accept responsible for causing the pollution by buying properties under a voluntary acquisition scheme, and address consistent problems with noise and the need for buffer zones.

He noted Defence’s recent sale of buffer zone land around RAAF Base Edinburgh, which it then had to buy back, and its repeated skirmishes with Port Stephens Council over the development of residential land within areas identified as noise-sensitive.

“Defence really does need to develop a coherent air field buffer zone policy and implement it as part of the voluntary acquisition scheme for PFAS-contaminated properties,” Mr Donahoo said.

“After buffer zone use Defence could rezone the land for commercial and industrial use. Defence Housing Australia already develops residential estates in former Defence land to maximise the return to the Commonwealth, and it could establish a new division to develop commercial and industrial estates.

“Within a period of 10 to 15 years, Defence Housing Australia could make a net profit on a voluntary acquisition scheme.”

Mr Donahoo said Defence could raise money for a buy-back scheme against a Defence-estimated $1.8 billion in Defence Housing Australia assets by 2019.

This story Buy-back is a no-brainder: former commander first appeared on Newcastle Herald.