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Eliminating the evidence – New Victorian law to restrict access to police DNA samples

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Background report with comment from the Assistant Secretary of The Police Association of Victoria, Bruce McKenzie.  Reporter: Kay Morrelle

30 October 2013   The Victorian Parliament is debating new laws to restrict public access to DNA samples that are routinely volunteered to eliminate police DNA from evidence collected at crime scenes. The bills aim to further regulate the storage, use and destruction of evidence elimination samples given by police and others attending crime scenes, such as emergency services and forensic services staff.

The Police Association of Victoria has lobbied for the laws blocking third party access to its members’ DNA samples. Since April, The Police Association has advised police and Protective Services Officers (PSOs) attending crime scenes not to provide DNA samples until the law changes.

Minister for Police and Emergency Services Kim Wells introduced the Victoria Police Bill 2013, and the Crimes Amendment (Investigation Powers) Bill 2013 which are still at the second reading stage.

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Service station risks stay buried

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By KAYMOLLY MORRELLE

This decommissioned, contaminated service station site at Dandenong South has been on the EPA’s Priority Sites Register for over 10 years. Photo: Kaymolly Morrelle

More than twenty currently operating service stations in Victoria are contaminated sites with a potential risk to public and environmental health. A further 22 former service stations and 11 petroleum storages are listed by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority as being contaminated.

The sites’ addresses are made public on a Priority Sites Register on the EPA website. Little further information is available to the public and the EPA appears reluctant to provide details of the contamination, despite a review that recommended it lift its performance with key stakeholders, including residents.

The Priority Sites Register is updated monthly and does not include all known contaminated sites, only those posing “an unacceptable risk to human health or to the environment”.  The only public information comes in the form of a few words from the EPA:  Current (/Former) Service Station. Requires assessment and/or clean up. Continue reading

Russell Ardley: the bloke they crossed the street to avoid

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Kaymolly Morrelle

25 May 2011

“It’s funny; I was seen as the local nut case because I wanted to work with kids that nobody else wanted to work with… to teach them trade skills and work in the environment… I didn’t have a lot of support either way for the first five years. People used to cross the street so they didn’t have to talk to me.”

That didn’t stop Russell Ardley starting up Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises in 1995 on the site of a former Water Authority sewage treatment plant. It didn’t stop him from finding and training the kids most teachers don’t want in their classrooms. Any lack of funding, facilities, resources or staff didn’t stop him either. Russell is a man of singular vision and down in Gippsland, where he grew up, you made do.

“We did everything. I’m just as good a carpenter as I am a welder, a plumber… No, I’m not a plumber.” He tips his head to one side and chuckles. “Not a plumber really. Well, I’m a plumber, a builder, an electrician, an engineer—I built most of the stuff we have here.”

As a young man, Ardley trained in the army and later became a chef. He worked as a chef for about 20 years around the Mornington Peninsula. Eighteen years ago, Ardley’s teenage son was “losing his way”. The local youth programs didn’t seem to work. Ardley felt the programs were just giving young people holidays and other things their parents couldn’t afford. “That just taught them to take more,” he says.

Ardley was building replica antique furniture back then, in his shed. A friend suggested Ardley could try to work at that with his own son. But how many parents can teach their own children when things are going bad? The friend was the local youth worker on council. Ardley told him “I can’t work with my son like that.” So his friend worked with Ardley’s son and found some other kids for Ardley to work with. That was the start of a project that moved out of the shed after three years to become Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises.

Now, 18 years on and in his fifties, Ardley is sitting on a low brick retaining wall to the left of the open gates to this homemade empire. Ardley’s mug of tea has stopped steaming in the autumn air. The mug chills on the bricks, untouched as he shares his stories of MPYE’s development. A magpie sings in the river gum overhead and workboots crunch on the gravel as staff and volunteers head for a cuppa in the small, clean staffroom. Ardley says he won’t let them turn the heat on in the training rooms today, “we can’t afford the power bills,” he says.

MPYE has never had ongoing funding from any tier of government. Mornington Peninsula Shire supports it by leasing the site that belongs to South East Water. Ardley is grateful for his wife, Debbie’s, support from the start. “Debbie works so I can still work here, because the pay isn’t fantastic and for the first 13 years, actually more than that, we funded it ourselves,” he says.

MPYE’s nursery generates operating income from sales to the public and community organisations. Horticulture is the main program and the Australian native nursery extends across half of the two hectare site. Horticulture participants grow mangrove seedlings in rows of hand-built polytunnels. The opaque tunnels are carpeted in a mosaic of seedlings growing in milk coffee cartons.

In a heavy rainstorm last year, the salt-water ponds overflowed and 15,000 seedlings “just popped out and took off down the stormwater drains,” says Ardley. This month, MPYE delivered 6500 new seedlings to a Bass coast revegetation scheme. Ardley says it’s a way for the horticulture participants to give something back. “We’ll be involved in at least one day of putting them in, but they’ve helped the community and the environment by growing them,” he says.

Jake Baglin came to learn horticulture at MPYE five weeks ago and thought Ardley was “just an old guy”. Seventeen-year-old Jake is discovering a passion for learning about native plants and permaculture. He’s built a veggie garden at home and says he loves it at MPYE.  He’s more certain now of the direction he wants to go in and he reckons he and Ardley have opened up to each other. “Russell is really good to talk to” Jake says.

Ardley makes time to get to know his participants. Some return later to volunteer, others become like extended family. “I haven’t had a daughter myself, but I’ve given three girls away over the years where they’ve wanted me to be their father for the day.” He blinks a bit and looks away, “and I get really choked up about that too.” He sees some later when they graduate from local TAFE courses.

Ardley says sometimes it’s not clear who you’ve affected or how. His brow furrows when he says that. Very occasionally, a participant will ‘muck up’ badly and Ardley says he might suspend them for a while to think it over. Often they’ll come back. One teenager behaved so badly that he had no choice but expel her from the program. “She had good reason… a lot on her plate,” Ardley says. He still let her phone to talk things over when she got into trouble and some years later she asked to come in for a meeting. She shocked Ardley when she faced him and thanked him for kicking her out. She told him she’d behaved badly everywhere, but that he was the first who’d ever told her ‘No’ and taken the time to tell her why.

MPYE helped her to get a local apprenticeship and she kept in touch for four years. “She said she’d move up north after she qualified, and I think she did. Obviously, life moves on,” he says.

Life needs a bit of a prod sometimes and Ardley chuckles telling one story about a young participant who liked stealing cars. He wasn’t progressing and Ardley brought in a car from his brother-in-law’s wrecking yard so he and the boy could rebuild it. “It was looking good and the boy thought he was getting the car. He was supposed to be coming back the next day with his father to get it. But that night I got my kids to come in and cut the locks on the gate to make it look like it was stolen. Of course, when he comes in, the car’s gone and he starts carrying on about it. We got broken into a lot, so he didn’t even twig that it was a set up. The boy started carrying on about ‘Thieving this and that’.”

“We reported it to the police, but I’d already told them and so they treated him like crap. They said ‘Well, why should we help you? You’re stealing everybody else’s cars, why do you think we should put the effort in to you? You don’t deserve it.’ And he was getting really pissed off. So, in the end we had to tell him. Afterwards, he was really good about it. And we never did give him the car; we actually sold it as a fundraiser. But the whole purpose was so he could feel what it was like for the people that he was stealing the cars off.”

The boy got an apprenticeship and used to call Ardley at the start of each of the four years and again when he qualified, to say ‘thank you’. A few more years went by and another call came: ‘Remember me?’. Ardley’s voice cracks; he apologises for getting a bit emotional: “The boy said ‘I’ve just had a little girl, and I hope that I’m half as good a father to my little girl’ …you know, as I was to him. And those sort of things make it all worthwhile. I’ve never heard from him since, but at least I know I’ve done something.”

Ardley says he’ll never afford to retire. “If I did, I’d like to go up the country and do the same thing.” He is thinking about the regions around Mildura or Swan Hill where there is a number of Somali people and also a lot of poverty. He sees lots of issues, different challenges and very few opportunities for youngsters to get training in some of the little towns. “I think that’s what I would like to call retirement or a holiday,” he says.

A holiday might seem a stretch, but Ardley has lots of ideas to improve programs at MPYE. When he finds the funds for pallet racks, the walls around the old sewage pond will contain a new forklift training site. A tissue culture lab and a tidal watering system will improve the site’s mangrove propagation project. There will be a high demand for mangrove seedlings with all the new development of the Port at Hastings, he says.

By day, Ardley will keep managing MPYE and training young people with a lot on their plate. He’ll keep downplaying the awards received, though he’s very proud of the ones nominated by his students. He’ll still do guest lectures at university horticulture and social work departments. But, at nights and on weekends he’ll be out speaking to community and philanthropic groups to raise funds and tell them about MPYE. “Ideas have never been my problem— it’s just getting the money to make them work” he chuckles.

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Kaymolly Morrelle interviewed Russell Ardley on 5 May, 2011 and Jake Baglin on 20 and 25 May, 2011 at Mornington Peninsula Youth Enterprises. Photography: 20 and 25 May, 2011. © ksmorrelle 2011

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World Laughter Day 2013: Melbourne

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Melbourne is shivering through the coldest day since October, but in Federation Square this morning, people were laughing…

Laughing for world peace on World Laughter Day 2013 in Federation Square, Melbourne.

Fun for all as Laughter Clubs Victoria celebrate their tenth anniversary on World Laughter Day 2013 at Federation Square, Melbourne.  Video journalist: Kay Morrelle

 

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EPA Victoria responds: Kay Morrelle interviews EPA Director Matt Vincent

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Present at the interview:

Matt Vincent: EPA director (MV)
Ruth Ward: EPA media advisor (RW)
Kaymolly Morrelle: reporter for Dangerous Ground, Monash University (KM)
and Zoe Taylor-Lynch: reporter for Dangerous Ground, Monash University
 
 
 
 

KM: Do you find that there is much attention to workers’ occupational health and safety in relation to your notices and clean up?

MV: Our experience is that it is quite rare that contaminated site issues would be necessarily posing a day-to-day immediate risk to workers but certainly where there’s any suspicion that that would be the case, we would work with WorkSafe to resolve those issues.

KM: What does the EPA consider is the most dangerous risk to human and environmental health from land or water that is contaminated by service stations currently operating?

MV: Look, I think the key risk there would be where there’s a residential development, if there are any potential vapours from contaminated ground water, so if you had a contained area, say a basement or a garage and there was any vapour seepage from a petrol station site that would pose a risk. Often when they’ve remediated the site, if there is any potential risk that’s opened up, they put some kind of vapour barrier there to make sure that doesn’t occur.

KM:    So, do you mean a risk of, for example, breathing the vapours–

MV: That’s right.

KM: …or explosion?

MV: No, long term breathing, and impacts from breathing that over time.

KM: As far as I’ve read… BTEX compounds (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene) can be quite carcinogenic, although some of them are found in things like cigarette smoke, they certainly have a detrimental effect and must be therefore a large part of what the EPA is meant to be protecting us from?

MV: Absolutely. I mean, where there are either immediate or long-term effects from exposure, absolutely, that’s what we regulate. And so, often, with those residential developments, after they’ve remediated, they will put in some kind of vapour barrier.

KM: When it comes to aquatic life, for instance when it’s water table and streams, which are being affected, what other departments do you get involved with?

MV: Look our role as a regulator is to protect the environment … if there is groundwater potentially moving towards another water body, then absolutely that is something that we would look at. In terms of involving other agencies, often when an auditor would be doing a risk assessment, a risk of harm, etc, if there was another organisation, for example Parks Victoria, that was responsible for that water body, or one of the water authorities etc., they would either talk to us or talk to them and notify them of the risk as well  and get them involved.

KM: Moving to the case of service station operators: they’re sitting there and they receive a knock on the door, some sort of communication from EPA and suddenly there’s an enormous crisis on their hands—I’m thinking of a case where they maybe didn’t know they had a problem and it was perhaps a third party who notified the EPA. What consideration of interruption and cost to businesses does the EPA have when issuing clean up or pollution abatement notices?

MV: Look there are cases where, for example, a plume that is travelling off another site and is detected somewhere else, and we’ll often approach that business and say, ‘OK, there is a strong suspicion here that you have contamination coming off your site and this is what’s required’, and normally that takes the form of some kind of investigation. So, it would be very, very, very rare that that would be something that results in an immediate need to completely shut down a business. It might be a change of practice or it might be a quick investigation into what is the source of that, etc., but, make no mistake, at the end of the day, if there is a threat that represents a serious threat to the environment, we would not hesitate in shutting that business down or taking whatever action is necessary to stop the pollution.

KM: Which in itself must be a very good deterrent, because entry and exit barriers for the retail fuel industry are quite high and capital costs are high; clean up of contaminated land must be enormously expensive. So one would hope that all of that put together, plus your ability to say, “That’s it. Stop operating”…

MV: Yes. And look, you know, in terms of particularly developments, you know you probably wouldn’t have to go too far to find developers that would say they’ve been put out of business effectively because of the strict requirements put on them by the EPA. At the end of the day you can’t compromise when you’re talking about protecting the health of the community and you know, in really all cases, what needs to be done, needs to be done.

KM: So it’s very much a bottom line—high noon this is it? If they are resistant, I mean?

MV: Well, look, I think you really need to be fair and reasonable in the sense of you’ve really got to weigh up what is the true risk; what is the capacity of this business or industry to meet certain time frames, to get things done? And so you know there’s always a discussion to be had, but at the end of the day, we can’t compromise health and we can’t compromise the health of the environment.

KM: One of the sites (at Dandenong South) that I’m looking at has been over 10 years on the Priority Sites Register and I don’t know whether it’s fully or partially decommissioned, but there is certainly no above ground building on the site now. When something has been partially decommissioned and perhaps certain things have been met but there are ongoing things…is it possible that a site could just remain on the register and never really get off it?

RW: There are some sites, landfills in particular, that have ongoing monitoring requirements. They could be on there for 30 years. It just depends on the specific site and what the requirements are, and that’s about making sure that, in the case of a landfill, it does not have any ongoing issues. So there might be management requirements, but certainly there would be monitoring requirements, for 20 or 30 years.

MV: If you look at a former petrol station, for example, which is very likely to be contaminated no matter what they’ve done, provided that site is not being used, and there’s not a plume of petrol that’s contaminated the ground moving off, it’s probably quite reasonable and it is safe to leave it there in some kind of suspended animation. And really it’s the market forces that will drive the clean up ultimately, that land will become valuable enough for someone to invest in cleaning up. Now, part of what I’m going to be talking about in the next 12 months is trying to identify where are all the sites that we don’t know about? There’s the Priority Sites Register that has some 250 on it, but then there are all these other sites that probably aren’t sitting on the register. So we want to understand where they all are and then the next phase of that will be What is the plan? You know: what is the big picture plan to get these sites cleaned up?

KM: You would need an army to go round the petrol stations in Australia, not just Victoria, but Australia—I believe there are over 3000 petrol stations in the country. There must be an enormous number in Victoria that haven’t come to your attention. Are the funds going to be there? Is there going to be the goodwill for the funds to be given to the EPA to handle that sort of task?

MV: We’ve, through our transformation, been very clear about three key things we are going to do. One, is we’re going to look at past pollution. So we’re going to actually focus on all of those things that happened previously that haven’t been dealt with.

Two, deal with the issues of today. So, making sure we don’t actually end up with any more of those legacy issues. And then thirdly, look to the future and what we need to do in terms of regulation. So we’re really clear about those three priorities and aligning our resources to make them. So we are confident we can do that.

KM: No (public) notices seem to be posted on the sites or the perimeters of  the sites I’ve visited. Is that because I just happened to have picked four that didn’t have notices, or is it not required?

RW: There’s no requirement.

MV: No, there’s no requirement to put something up. However, what I will say is that, over time, as part of being more transparent, we intend to start to put more and more information up on the website about these individual sites, so that the community can see where are all the contaminated sites and what is the current status of what is happening with that site.

But, look, we would only insist that signs went up on a site if we deemed that there was a significant risk to human health in terms of people interacting– or being near that site. So for example if there was asbestos on a site that was fenced off and we were concerned about people being in close proximity, we would make sure that there were signs plastered all over it. But, you know, if it’s under the ground and there’s not vapours coming up that are going to cause an issue for people, it’s not necessary–in fact it would probably just cause more concern from the community than is actually necessary.

KM: Sort of like sticking a stick in a hornet’s nest, in a sense?

MV:  Well I think that what our experience shows is that if the community is only given partial information, it can actually lead to a lot of unnecessary fear, and, you know, that fear, in some cases, in extreme cases, can actually have health impacts of its own: people living with that stress. So, really, you’ve either got to make a call to say ‘Hey, look, it’s not a risk, let’s not be too worried about plastering signs all over that’. Or, take the opposite, which is go out there and really talk to the community.

KM:   You’d have to make a call on each site, I imagine?

MV: Yeah.

KM: It would be site specific and community specific?

RW: And sometimes people specific. So you might only talk to a handful of people who are directly impacted, rather than a broader community.

KM: Looking at the various jurisdictions, all the states and territories, what do you see as a major anomaly or a glaring anomaly between the states’ regulations or legislation on environmental protection? What do you think is the area theyneed to first focus on?

MV: I think the message we get is you have a lot of businesses that are working across multiple jurisdictions and in actual fact, for them, I think it is more about they struggle to navigate through those differences and so I think they get a bit confused about what’s required in each different part of the country. So really I think it is about if you can get a uniform system that just gives one set of guidelines, one sort of single point of truth, if you like, that would actually reduce the confusion and probably get a lot more consistency in terms of compliance. So I think that’s the key focus.

KM: Is there any particular body working on that kind of uniform approach?

MV: There is a network of regulators who are looking at this very thing.

KM: …In the United States, the EPA there is concerned about, and is doing research into, the storage of bio-fuels in petrol station type storage. They’ve seen accelerated corrosion in the sumps underground and they’re looking into how they are going to handle that with more and more storing of ethanol blends. Are you aware of anything to do with that in the Australian or Victorian context?

MV: I’m not personally aware of that but what I can say is that we have a number of experts across the EPA and part of their role is to keep up to date on the latest developments around the world and so I’d be very surprised if we didn’t have someone watching it. In fact, over the next six to 12 months we’ll be really embedding that expertise in terms of appointing people into specific expertise roles to do exactly that.

KM: What sort of contact does the EPA have with peak bodies like the Australian Institute of Petroleum or other peak petroleum industry bodies on an ongoing regular basis? Is there a close relationship with the umbrella organisations in relation to petro-storage… ?

MV: Look, we tend to work with organisations such as the Australian Industry Group that represent a broad set of industry rather than specific ones, but we do deal a lot with the petrol companies themselves and the big players in the petrochemical industry individually on a one-to-one basis. And just at the moment we’re going through a process of looking at what are the key relationships we need to have. So, that’s part of the transformation that I talked about. It may well be that we need to engage with them.

KM: One last question: Stan Krpan’s review (of the EPA) has … 119 recommendations. That’s a lot to handle for one organisation, I’m sure. Have you prioritised those…?

MV: So we’ve got the 119 from Stan Krpan, plus the Ombudsman’s, plus (Victorian Auditor-General’s report) so we have a whole suite of these recommendations which are built into this transformation plan. So we have very clear timelines and accountabilities around who is doing what recommendation and by when. And that will take us probably around three years to implement 119 recommendations and I think we’ve implemented something like 30 already. We’re trying to do it as quickly as possible, but it’s not a tick the box exercise for us; it actually has got to get the result and the intent needs to have been met, so it’s not about rushing them through …

See also:

*The transcript of this interview is slightly edited. The interview took place at Monash University’s Caulfield campus in Semester 2, 2011.   © ksmorrelle 2012

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This work by Kaymolly S. Morrelle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.