The Queensland Government is launching a parliamentary review into the resurgence of coal worker’s pneumoconiosis (CWP), or black lung, in the state.
The disease was thought to have been eradicated in Australia until the emergence of a case in May last year. Since then, there have been 10 other confirmed cases, with another 18 miners retested after x-ray results showed signed of the disease, with the CFMEU also claiming a former miner has died as a result of complications from black lung.
In yesterday’s state Parliament, the ALP voted to create a parliamentary select committee to look into the issue.
The committee will be created within the next 30 days and will report back to the Parliament. They will have the powers of a parliamentary committee to call witnesses, hear evidence, and gain access to relevant documents.
Mines minister Anthony Lynham said the committee will provide the scrutiny expected by Queenslanders “without distraction from the immediate priority: fixing the issue”, the ABC reports.
“They will tell us what occurred in the past, where the problems were and we’ll be able to learn from this inquiry, and we’ll be co-operating fully with this inquiry,” he said.
However, the Opposition sought to establish a royal commission into the matter, with Opposition leader Tim Nicholls saying, “There seems to be a blame game happening now between the industry and government departments about what happened, why it happened, and whose fault it was.”
“The best way to get to the bottom of what happened and ensure it doesn’t happen again is through a commission of inquiry — sometimes called a royal commission.”
Outgoing Queensland Resources Council chief executive Michael Roche said the coal industry was “appalled” at the Monash Review into the re-emergence of the disease, which identified a failure to detect early signs of CWP in coal workers.
“The coal industry in Queensland has taken this matter very seriously and acted expeditiously to ensure that workers are able to have their recent chest x-rays re-read by two experts – one local and one in the USA – and other workers have been offered a new chest x-ray, under this dual reading arrangement. This process is already well underway,” he said.
In terms of the merits of a royal commission, Roche said, “It is industry’s view that all the resources of government, industry and the relevant sections of the medical profession need to be deployed to the urgent task of fixing the system and ensuring the health of coal workers.
“The last thing we need now is to distract all those parties from this task by tying them up in a lawyers-driven inquiry,” he said.
“There may be merit down the track in getting an independent view of “what went wrong”, but now is not the time.”