Ashburton Shire urges bipartisan action on Wittenoom

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Mount Watkins forms the spectacular backdrop to the town of Wittenoom.
Camera IconMount Watkins forms the spectacular backdrop to the town of Wittenoom. Credit: WA News, Nic Ellis

A State Government plan to shut down the asbestos-contaminated town of Wittenoom has been backed by local councillors, who have called for a bipartisan approach to remediate its surrounds without delay.

Considering a State Government Bill to close the Pilbara ghost town, Shire of Ashburton councillors last week passed a motion supporting the proposed legislation but urged politicians on both sides to take further action on other issues relating to future management of the Pilbara town.

The motion calls for a joint political effort to close Wittenoom as soon as possible and clean up asbestos on the Wittenoom-Roebourne Road, which the Shire claims has prevented it from maintaining the route for health and safety reasons.

Councillors also said the State Government should take responsibility for potential disease lawsuits stemming from exposure in Wittenoom and sought the formation of a commission to be responsible for government ownership of the town in future.

Shire president Kerry White said councillors were seeking a “meaningful and co-operative approach” from both the Government and Opposition that “actively works” to address the issues associated with the contaminated town and Wittenoom-Roebourne Road.

“Council supports the Wittenoom Bill and trusts it gets through without delay, and urges the State Government to also treat the issues associated with the Wittenoom-Roebourne Road with absolute priority,” she said.

“While council congratulates the State Government for its genuine action on introducing the Wittenoom Bill, we hope to see a true commitment to resolving these wider issues.”

The Wittenoom blue asbestos mine was closed in 1966 and the town de-gazetted in 2007, but three residents still live there and it remains a target for thrillseeking tourists despite numerous warning signs about the presence of asbestos.

More than 2000 former workers and residents have died from asbestos-related diseases.

Legal claims from asbestos exposure at Wittenoom cost the Shire more than $1 million in 2018-19 and that figure is expected to increase next financial year.

Lands Minister Ben Wyatt said he hoped the Wittenoom Closure Bill, introduced to Parliament in March, would be passed as soon as possible to limit access to the area. However, he said a commission to oversee issues associated with Wittenoom was “not required”.

“There is a whole-of-government working group that includes the Shire of Ashburton and the group is looking at long term strategies etc,” he said.

“The Government looks forward to working with the Shire of Ashburton to help draw this sorry part of the State’s history to a close and are appreciative of their support.”

North West Central MLA Vince Catania agreed a bipartisan approach was needed on the Wittenoom Closure Bill and associated issues in the area, especially regarding the Shire’s liability in asbestos-related disease cases.

Shire chief executive Rob Paull will provide a confidential briefing to the Premier and Opposition Leader on issues surrounding the Wittenoom townsite and Wittenoom-Roebourne Road in coming months.

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