By Nicole Hilder
WOLLONGONG — One hundred people protested the reopening of the Port Kembla copper smelter by NSW Premier Bob Carr on February 3. The demonstration was organised by Illawarra Residents Against Toxic Environments (IRATE), Wollongong University and the NSW branch of the National Union of Students.
At the end of the rally, after a minute's silence for the "death of democracy", 30 demonstrators broke through the outside gates and interrupted the speeches.
The official ceremony was attended by ALP politicians, big business executives, union officials and the new transnational investors. Exploiting high regional unemployment levels, Carr claimed the 400 jobs created "marks a new beginning, a vote of confidence in this region". Carr cynically blew the activists kisses as he departed.
After breaching pollution control standards throughout 1991-1994, the smelter was closed in February 1995. It is now undergoing a $250 million environmental upgrade. The developer, a Japanese consortium, says it has installed a world-class pollution system. However, only one part of the three-part system will be used and no smelter in the world has achieved the pollution control standards the consortium claims will be reached.
An Environmental Protection Authority study of children's blood lead levels determined that Port Kembla residents are at risk of contamination. The Australian Standard A12 recommends maximum soil lead levels of 0.5 parts per million; the levels within a one kilometre radius of the smelter are 344 parts per million.
The state ALP government endorsed the Port Kembla Development (Special Provisions) Act last May in a last minute attempt to prevent information, including recordings of pollution levels, from being publicly released, and to bypass a potential decision by the Land and Environment Court that state government consent for the development was invalid.
The state government has alienated large numbers of traditional supporters in the area. A number of rally speakers voiced their disgust and there were many anti-ALP banners and chants of "The king of cancer: Copper Bob".
IRATE is continuing to campaign to stop the redevelopment and can be contacted at (02) 4274 4935.