Hazelwood mine fire inquiry to be re-opened to examine claims of smoke-related deaths
The Hazelwood mine fire inquiry will be re-opened to examine whether smoke from the blaze in February last year caused premature deaths in the area.
The coal mine fire burned for 45 days near Morwell, in Victoria's south-east, putting thick, acrid smoke over the nearby town.
In the first week of the fire, about 20 firefighters were treated for carbon monoxide poisoning, while vulnerable residents were not advised to leave until weeks later.
The original inquiry held into the disaster last year made 12 recommendations to government, including tough new fire regulations for coal mine operators.
Hazelwood mine fire
Look back at the mine fire in Morwell that burned for 45 days.
The Government said it would allocate more than $25 million in funding to implement the final recommendations, including the roll out of rapid response air monitoring anywhere in Victoria within 24 hours of a fire.
The re-opened inquiry is expected to again be headed by Bernard Teague, but he has not been formally appointed.
Talks to secure other members were still in progress, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said.
He said claims people died due to air pollution deserved further investigation.
"What occurred here was wrong and we owe it everybody impacted by this, particularly those brave men and women who were right here in front, right in the middle of that danger, fighting that fire and to everybody affected that we learn from that fire and we make better preparations for the future," Mr Andrews said.
"I think those families and the entire community have a right to know what were the exact impacts of the Hazelwood mine fire."
He said the terms of reference and details of dates would be finalised by May.
Ahead of today's announcement, Wendy Farmer from Voices of the Valley said the original inquiry held did not have enough time to investigate important health issues.
"We are really hoping it will cover the health of the community ... also the deaths that have happened and look really seriously at how pollution can kill people and did it happen in this instance," Ms Farmer said.
The new inquiry will make recommendations on how the Latrobe Valley's mines should be rehabilitated.
Coroner rejected calls to investigate deaths
Last November, Victoria's coroner rejected calls to investigate the possible link between deaths in the Latrobe Valley and smoke from the blaze.
The calls came after Queensland University of Technology air pollution expert Adrian Barnett said there was a high probability air pollution from the mine fire did cause the 11 deaths.
He analysed official Births, Deaths and Marriages data that showed the monthly number of deaths from four postcode areas in and around Morwell from 2009 to 2014.
Then-Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the analysis was troubling, and called on the government of the day to re-open the inquiry.
"The fact that this was not considered by the board of inquiry means that the board of inquiry must be reopened and must look at this issue," he said ahead of Victoria's 2014 state election.
"There must be satisfaction for the people of Morwell that when the Government said they would look into the disaster and the handling of it properly and fully that they will actually do that."
The Victorian premier at the time, Denis Napthine, said he was confident the State Government was given the right advice about the potential health impacts of the mine fire.
"We've acted responsibly and appropriately in tackling what was a difficult fire situation," Dr Napthine said.
"In supporting the families, supporting the community and putting into place an independent inquiry and adopting the recommendations of that inquiry."