An ongoing investigation by the Socialist Equality Party
Health Unit report delayed again
The Carr government has once more delayed the release of the report by the Illawarra Public Health Unit into the Wollongong leukaemia cases. The government has refused to give a date for the report, promised for June 30 after already being postponed twice.
It appears that Premier Bob Carr and Health Minister Andrew Refshauge are deliberately holding back the report's release until after the convening of the Workers Inquiry on July 19-20. According to Health Department and Public Health Unit officials, the report has been handed to the government, but it was withholding the report until it had been considered by Refshauge.
Officials claim that this was always the planned procedure, yet the further delay seems to have been decided at the last minute. An advertised meeting of the Health Unit's Community Reference Group, called for July 7 to discuss the report's main findings, was suddenly cancelled without a new date being set.
Victims' relatives who had expected to obtain the report at that meeting have been told by Health Unit officials that it is likely to be posted to them in mid-July, just after the Workers Inquiry's public hearings. They will not see the report until after the government has publicly released it.
The Health Unit was originally supposed to deliver its report by the end of February. Then the date was put back to the end of April. Later, Refshauge personally authorised another postponement -- until June 30.
The Health Unit's director Dr Victoria Westley-Wise has sought to explain the delays by the need to "get it right". Yet the report's basic findings have been known all along. Within weeks of the Health Unit's investigation being announced last September, Westley-Wise began stating repeatedly in the media that the report would almost certainly not be able to determine the cause of the leukaemias which have struck at least 11 young people since 1989 in four southern Wollongong suburbs alone.
The real reason is that the support won and evidence compiled by the Workers Inquiry has made it much more difficult than the government anticipated for the Health Unit to hand down another whitewash, as it has many times in the past.
Premier Carr's office has also advised the Committee for a Workers Inquiry that Carr had personally rejected a proposed reply drawn up by his advisers to the Open Letter addressed to Carr by the Workers Inquiry convenor Peter Stavropoulos two months ago.
Carr's spokesman Glen Byres claimed that Carr had decided that the reply was not comprehensive enough and had ordered his staff to prepare another draft, to be on his desk when he returned from a European trip. This delay means that the reply too is unlikely to be received before the Workers Inquiry.
The Open Letter challenged Carr to hand over the information he was basing himself on when he stated publicly that steelworkers carried cancer in their bodies because of exposure to dangerous chemicals. The letter said Carr's comment was a staggering admission that the government had long known, but had covered-up, the fact that workers were dying from BHP's emissions.
Irrespective of whether Carr's reply and the Health Unit report are released before the July 19-20 Workers Inquiry hearings, both documents will be dealt with in the findings of the Workers Inquiry.