21 November 2012 — Labor and the Coalition have joined forces in the Senate to vote down a motion to establish a Senate Inquiry into the health impacts of coal mining, coal transport and coal export in the Hunter.

Greens Senator for NSW Lee Rhiannon said Hunter residents would be disappointed by the move.

“Hunter MPs, who have gone on the record with their concerns about the health impacts of the mining industry, will owe local residents an explanation,” she said.

“Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon reportedly said he would support a productive inquiry but he did not like the Greens moving it.

“The door is now wide open for Mr Fitzgibbon to come through and push Labor to establish its own inquiry. It should not matter which party puts it forward.”

Senator Rhiannon said coal mines in the Hunter, stock piles of coal awaiting export at Newcastle Port and uncovered coal trains were creating a growing legacy of respiratory problems.

“The situation stands to get far worse if the fourth coal export terminal for Newcastle Harbour is given the go-ahead,” she said.

“A recent study by Associate Professor Ruth Colagiuri confirmed what locals suspected for years – that there is an increased risk of heart and lung disease, as well as birth defects, in mining regions.

“Yet there has never been a comprehensive study of the cumulative health impacts of coal in the Hunter.”

Meanwhile, the Senate passed a bill that will allow adjustments to the amount of water that can be sustainably taken from the Murray-Darling Basin.

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority will now hand a final version of its basin plan to Environment Minister Tony Burke.

Under the bill, any adjustments to the sustainable diversion limits may not be more than five per cent above or below the total amount and must be put to parliament and the public.