Cockburn Cement Community Meeting


Cockburn Cement Limited (CCL) is holding a “community forum” on Monday 28th May, 2018 and has issued invitations to some residents it has selected to attend. Page 1    Page 2

It has also nominated a couple of the higher profile supporters of Cockburn Pollution Stoppers to attend as “key stakeholders”.

Cockburn Pollution Stoppers resolved at its meeting on Monday 21st to boycott this “forum” and to recommend that all residents invited to attend by CCL should also boycott it.

Here are our reasons.

If you only have time to read one page – just look for the heading CCL’s Track Record.

Who has asked to “engage” with CCL in a “community forum”?

We have not asked CCL for a public meeting to discuss residents’ concerns about the toxic pollution being emitted by CCL’s Munster factory and there has been no general call within the community for such a meeting.  If you have received an invitation, did you give CCL your email address?  If not, are your contact details on a membership mailing list kept by a local community group?  Did you consent to your email address being provided to CCL for this purpose?

All the issues about toxic air pollution were discussed at length in the 2010 Parliamentary Inquiry into CCL’s activities.  All stakeholders and every member of the community had the opportunity to make submissions to this Inquiry.  The issues are still the same in 2018.

CCL’s owner (Adelaide Brighton Limited) (ABL) is a top 100 listed public company with $4 billion worth of cash and assets.

ABL and CCL have extensive financial and technical resources – they know exactly what they are doing in their Munster factory and why.

CCL follows our Facebook page and our website so it also knows precisely what our community wants and why.

CCL has made no attempt whatsoever to contact us in the past 18 months and tell us what changes they have made to address the community’s concerns. Why not?

CCL does not need a public meeting to know that our community wants it to reduce its pollution.

Why hold a so-called “community forum” now?

CCL has come under increasing pressure from Government, the press and our community group in recent months to make changes in the way it operates but it does not want to make pollution reduction improvements because they will reduce the very high profits it has been making from the factory over many years ($38+ million last year).

Simply put, it has avoided paying the true costs of its pollution so far and it would wants to avoid having to pay these costs in the future.

CCL therefore has good reason now to try to ease this public pressure by trying to persuade local residents that either there is no pollution problem, or, if there is, it is nothing to worry about.

From the community’s point of view, it is a good thing that CCL is feeling it has to take some action now to resist doing what the community wants.

It means that CCL is concerned that change may actually happen so it wants to try and get back control of public debate about its polluting activities.

If that is so, then the community doesn’t need to discuss the issue with CCL as the Government, the press and community “stakeholders” may well force changes upon CCL if they keep up the pressure using social media, lobbying politicians, parliamentary questions, newspaper articles and also by continuing to give factual information to the community.

The community has nothing to gain now by lending any support to CCL sponsored events.

Is the “community forum” genuine?

We looked at how the “forum” has been organised to consider whether or not it was a genuine attempt by CCL to “engage” with local residents and address their concerns or whether it is a cynical corporate stunt to create confusion and division of sentiment in the community.

We noted that CCL:

  • set up this so-called “community forum” itself without contacting the only community group whose sole purpose is getting CCL to reduce its toxic pollution profile – Cockburn Pollution Stoppers
  • decided when and where the forum would be held
  • decided it would not be open to the public or advertised in local newspapers so all interested residents could attend
  • decided which residents would be selected and sent an invitation to attend
  • decided which persons (or organisations) are “key stakeholders” who are to be sent an invitation to attend
  • decided that the press will not be invited to attend
  • decided who would be the Facilitator (chair) for the meeting
  • decided what fee (if any) it will pay the Facilitator
  • decided the agenda for the meeting
  • will decide the guidelines to be used by the Facilitator to control the meeting, who will speak and for how long, how any debate will be managed if it does go as they plan and who and how any debates or motions are recorded and who gets copies of the minutes of the meeting

We also considered who CCL had invited as “key stakeholders” and what contribution (if any) they have made to the issue of pollution emitted by the factory over the last 2 years.  Our group has had contact with most of the so-called key stakeholders or we were aware of their views from their past actions.

After having looked at their respective “track records” we found that some were staunch supporters and defenders of CCL’s rights to conduct its business without interference.  Others have a commercial interest in allowing CCL to conduct its business as it wants.  A few others are fence sitters who will not support anything which might upset CCL.  A few others just want the issue to go away so they don’t have to think about it anymore. The remainder are people or organisations genuinely concerned about the potential impacts of toxic pollution emitted by the factory upon the health of residents and their children.

We asked ourselves the following questions:

  • Why didn’t CCL invite a university based, independent toxicologist nominated by our community group to attend to explain to residents, teachers and professional child carers what evidence is available about the toxic gases and particulates emitted from the factory and what does this evidence mean?
  • Why didn’t CCL invite an independent respiratory specialist nominated by our community group to attend to explain to residents, teachers and professional child carers what medical symptoms can be caused by exposure to toxic gases and particulates and what they need to do if they suspect that they or their children have been affected?
  • How are residents and others to find out if in fact there a real emerging health problem for them and the children they care for?
  • How are they going to find out in fact what needs to be done to reduce or avoid exposure to toxic gases and particulates?

The real questions of concern to the community are simply not being addressed by this so called “community forum”.

Based on these facts, we considered that the “forum” was looking more like a stunt to deflect genuine community concerns and to create confusion within the community as to whether or not their concerns were real or imaginary.

CCL’s Track Record

We also looked at CCL’s past actions in relation to “community consultations” and “community forums” to check its “track record”.

Back in 2000-2004 local residents were increasingly concerned with their exposure to “dust” and “odours” coming from the factory and numerous complaints were made to CCL and the Government regulator (then called Department of Environment – DoE).  This concern developed into an organised community movement and they began demanding action by CCL and DoE to fix this problem.

The strategy of CCL and DoE was to “engage” the community in “consultation”.  Regular community meetings were held in which residents would raise their concerns and CCL and DoE would explain what CCL was doing to solve the problem.  Many meetings (and a couple of years) later it finally dawned on many of the residents that CCL had no intention of ever taking any effective action if it required them to spend money on pollution reduction improvements.

CCL had effectively split the community into two camps.  One group of residents realised they had been duped all this time and they then refused to participate in these meetings and lobbied the Minister for Environment directly.  The other group of residents still believed that CCL genuinely wanted to reduce its pollution profile so they continued to cooperate with CCL to “solve” the pollution problem.  CCL then set up its own community group of selected residents (and “key stakeholders”) who would work with them and not challenge what they were doing.

This enabled CCL to claim to Government that it was working with the community and that the community was no longer dissatisfied and was quite content with CCL’s activities.  Public pressure for CCL to reduce its pollution faded because the community itself was split between the two groups.

As a result, CCL was able to carry on business (and polluting) as usual for nearly 10 years until 2009/10 when mounting outrage in the community finally forced a Parliamentary Inquiry.

How do we know this history?

In 2017 we obtained documents from City of Cockburn by an FOI application and these documents show the history of “community consultations” with CCL and the City of Cockburn.

The earlier history is illustrated by the first two documents on our Cockburn Cement Community Forum page.

During this whole period while CCL was reassuring residents that it was doing everything it could to manage and reduce its pollution profile, in fact, its emissions increased.

Following the 2010 Parliamentary Inquiry, CCL was required to engage in community consultations but it wanted to do so only with residents and groups who would not challenge them about their activities.  They then tried to set up a community group which they controlled but by that time even the most gullible of residents finally realised they would be wasting their time. CCL’s “engagement” strategy failed. This later history is illustrated by the other documents on our Cockburn Cement Community Forum page.

What improvements has CCL voluntarily introduced to reduce the toxic gases and particulates emitted by its factory following community consultations? None

Is it likely that CCL is changing its corporate behaviour now? No

We therefore concluded that CCL’s “community forum” is just another farce in a long line of cynical corporate strategies to avoid stricter regulation of its polluting activities. This is why we are boycotting this event.

We recommend that invited residents do likewise to show their disapproval of CCL’s misleading behaviour.