Two years since closure Bill was introduced, Wittenoom remains a Pilbara ghost town in limbo
Alexander Scott Pilbara News – Thursday, 15 April 2021
The State Government’s planned closure of the asbestos-contaminated town of Wittenoom has stalled despite a Bill to enable the acquisition of lots at the de-gazetted town entering Parliament nearly two years ago.
The Wittenoom Closure Bill was introduced to Parliament by former lands minister Ben Wyatt in 2019 to enable the compulsory acquisition of the remaining 17 privately owned lots in the condemned town.
The deadly ghost town, 140km from Tom Price, was home to a blue asbestos mine at Wittenoom Gorge that closed in 1966.
It is considered one of the worst industrial disasters in Australia and the town was de-gazetted in 2007.
The Bill was passed through the Legislative Assembly in August 2019 but came to a standstill in the Legislative Council after its second reading later that month.
It received support from the Shire of Ashburton that year when the local council passed a motion supporting the proposed legislation.
The Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage said the former town had three property owners, one of whom was a permanent resident.
“The Bill did not pass through the Legislative Council before the 40th Parliament was prorogued prior to the 2021 State Election,” the department said.
“Property owners are encouraged to contact the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage to discuss the voluntary acquisition of their properties and relocation assistance.”
North West Central MLA Vince Catania said the Bill should be revisited to remove the town from the Shire of Ashburton’s jurisdiction.
“It doesn’t acknowledge all the aspects of the problems that Wittenoom causes, not only for those individuals that suffer from mesothelioma or asbestosis, but also the financial pressure put on the Shire of Ashburton, who is one of the defendants every time there’s a new case of mesothelioma that’s discovered,” he said.
“The Government should be taking full responsibility for the costs associated with those people who will continue to get the disease from having lived there, or passed through there.
Since 2008 the Shire of Ashburton has paid $6.3 million on cases related to the ghost town after its insurance coverage ran out more than a decade ago.
Mr Catania said the State Government needed to “pay out” the three residents who still own property in the former town.