The latest round of Government cuts to the public service are set to exacerbate the already compromised capacity of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH).
The latest round of Government cuts to the public service are set to exacerbate the already compromised capacity of the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) in its responsibility to provide the State with specialist knowledge in managing chemical exposure and spills.
The Environmental Contaminants Group (part of the Science Division of OEH) is responsible for providing expert scientific advice to EPA on the management of chemical pollution across NSW. Previously theyhandled the high profile clean-up of the Union Carbide site at Homebush Bay and the highly polluted ICI plant in Botany.
“Government budget cuts are short-sighted and have the potential to expose the public to chemical pollution”, said Catherine Bolger the NSW Director of the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers, Australia, the union that represents technical professionals working in the OEH.
“These cuts threaten to leave only one contamination expert in place, where previously there has been a team of five professionals that have provided the State with guidance, analysis and advice. We need to restore vital expertise in previously covered areas, such as ecological risk assessment, water chemistry, soil contamination and organic chemicals.
“The problem is that the Government is focusing on short-term budget cuts and not on what is being lost. Ongoing cuts threaten the State’s technical expertise. We have lost experts that provided advice about how to manage poisonous sites. We have lost experts that could advise how pollution can be cleaned up, or how to make sure new development on old sites is safe. Without these experts our community is not protected.
“While the Government cuts budgets, it is ignoring its responsibility to manage and protect NSW’s environmental safety. This is short-sighted and dangerous territory for any government.
“These are qualified experts that understand the nature of chemical pollution and the risks. APESMA is extremely concerned about the impacts of these cuts will have on human health and environmental impact – both the acute risks and the chronic risks.
“The important work of the Environmental Contaminants Group has not changed; the group has a huge case load. Yet the Government is so consumed by its budget squeeze that it is ignoring its responsibility to make sure the people of NSW have a safe and clean environment in which to live.
“With these chemical contamination experts gone, the State no longer has experts protecting the community. These professionals stood up to polluters, they held polluters to account, they questioned tardy site owners who tried to avoid their responsibility of cleaning up pollution. NSW will not be protected if consultants are used for this work.
“We call on the Government to re-invest in professional science and engineering roles in the public service and to cease all actions that undermine and reduce expertise and capacity to protect the community.
Other identified areas within OEH hit by major cuts include: Climate change emissions reduction; Biodiversity; Coastal and floods; The Country, Culture and Heritage Division (aboriginal heritage); Kangaroo management; The printing of local brochures; The National Parks sustainability investment program & Soils and salinity research.
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Media inquiries: To interview Catherine Bolger, contact Fiona Simpson on 0408 567 581.