The debate regarding whether the controversial Tarago waste-to-energy facility should go ahead has officially reached the federal level of government.
Duty Senator for Hume Deborah O’Neill has called out the would-be constructors and operators of the facility, Veolia, and pressured Federal Member for Hume Angus Taylor to support his constituents and publicly oppose the project.
Veolia’s proposed $600 million Advanced Energy Recovery Centre in Tarago has been met with strong opposition from the local community.
Goulburn Mulwaree Council, Yass Valley Council and Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman have all spoken out against the project as well.
Presenting to the Senate on Wednesday, 24 November, Senator O’Neill declared she is supporting the local community, which does not want to see the “toxic project” go ahead. She used examples of prior failings in Tarago as an example of why the project would be a “disaster for the local community”.
“[The site of the proposed project] is only 5km away from Tarago Public School, a school which is already suffering from an epidemic of lead pollution and contaminated drinking water,” she said.
“Currently in that town, there is no reticulated water and all water is collected from rainwater. Could you imagine the effects on water of a waste incinerator belching fumes into the air in the drinking water of that community?”
Senator O’Neill then directed her words specifically towards Veolia and the company’s withdrawal of funding from Goulburn Mulwaree Council, which she believes was in direct response to council announcing its opposition to the waste-to-energy project.
“Veolia is not on the community’s side, and in a petulant reaction to a council motion opposing the incinerator, Veolia decided to withdraw its previously promised $2.5 million grant for the local performing arts centre,” she said.
“They are absolutely not dealing in good faith with the community. Not only imposing their will without adequate protection for the health of the community, but using their power to destabilise the local economy and walking away from a commitment that was to support the benefit of those who are interested in performing arts.
“This is a type of appalling corporate citizenship and just a sign of how little this company regards the local community.”
Senator O’Neill finished by taking a parting swipe at Federal Member for Hume and Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor by saying she wishes the Tarago community had a local member who stood up for them.
A Veolia spokesperson responded to Senator O’Neill’s assertion that they are not on the side of the local community, and in particular the comments made linking the withdrawal of funding from the Goulburn Performing Arts Centre project to council’s announcement of opposition towards the waste-to-energy facility.
“The allegations made are untrue,” said the spokesperson. “Veolia is, and always has been, on the community’s side.
“Since 2004, Veolia has generously contributed more than $18 million to the community through its operational host fees and the Veolia Mulwaree Trust. We’re proud of this positive impact, and as good corporate citizens are committed to providing ongoing support to community initiatives.
“Veolia has agreed to allocate $9 million of its host fees to the Goulburn Performing Arts Centre – which we think is a marvellous project – to pay for council’s borrowings.
“We are proposing the Advanced Energy Recovery Centre because it is globally proven as safe, is significantly more sustainable than landfilling for non-recyclable waste, and will deliver an economic boost of more than $600 million to the region.
“This proposed project is completely unrelated to the Performing Arts Centre and is subject to the highest legal, regulatory and planning scrutiny.”
Mr Taylor has not recently made public comments on the waste-to-energy project. Privately, he has pointed to the matter as a NSW Government issue and not one he’d like to get involved in.
The Communities Against the Tarago Incinerator group has become increasingly frustrated with their local member, who they say should meet with them to hear their concerns.