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Milne calls on Burke Not to License Methyl Bromide

Australian Greens Deputy Leader, Christine Milne has called on Minister Tony Burke not to license the use of methyl bromide for use in the Port of Burnie.

Senator Milne last week asked Minister Burke why the federal government was granting an in-ship fumigation licence to TasPorts when safer alternatives are available.

"It's wrong for the government to ignore alternatives to this deadly and environmentally destructive gas and issue a licence to use it a mere stone's throw away from a major population centre.

"More so, it is a gross dereliction of duty when a federal minister puts the easy option above and beyond the welfare of port workers and the people of Burnie.

"Put bluntly, methyl bromide is suspected to be the cause of death in port workers who have used it in ways similar to those proposed for Burnie Port.

"At Nelson port in New Zealand, a cluster of 6 deaths from motor neurone disease is reported to be 25 times the international average, and a respected toxicologist says methyl bromide may be to blame.

"Is this a risk we want to take? The people of Burnie say no, the Burnie City Council says no and the Greens say no."

"I contacted Minister Burke's office last week to ask him why alternatives will not be used, and why the Australian government is not following the lead of the European Union and banning all use of methyl bromide on health grounds.

"Tasmanians need to know if Federal Minister Burke and State minister Green knew of the deaths in New Zealand when granting TasPorts their licence.

"If the ministers knew they should have immediately suspended all licences pending a review of safety concerns, environmental implications and the use of alternatives.

"The government's own website provides the alternatives of heat treatment, irradiation, or the simple removal of bark.
"Allowing this fumigation to go ahead will set a dangerous precedent. I urge Ministers Burke and Green to consider the port workers, the people of Burnie and the environment by immediately withdrawing the licence and reviewing the Government's position on the use of this deadly gas."

A copy of Senator Milne's questions sent to Minister Burke on June 24th are provided below.

Dear Minister,

I write to ask whether the Commonwealth has granted a licence for the use of methyl bromide to fumigate Forestry Tasmania's shipments of whole logs from the Burnie Port in northern Tasmania.

I understand 1.5 tonnes will be used of this ozone depleting chemical. I understand it is highly toxic to humans as well.

Is this use a breach of Australia's obligations under the Montreal Protocol?

Has the Commonwealth assessed the environmental and health impacts of permitting this use?

What are the health impacts and risks associated with releasing this toxic gas in the middle of the city of Burnie?

Has the Commonwealth considered alternatives to this chemical? Why weren't these alternatives used?

Since it is banned in the European Union, why is Australia still using it in fumigation?

Please do not issue a licence for this use.

Christine Milne

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