Residents  Against  Intensive  Development

1. A submission to the Public Works Committee on the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMB) at the University of Queensland. Please note that the University of Queensland¹s liaison officer has referred questions from the RAID group and this author to the Public Works Committee for resolution at the public hearing, so this submission contains a number of unanswered questions.

1.0 Lack of safeguards as to future operation

2 No safeguards have been supplied by the University/CSIRO that their assurances to the Public Works Committee will continue to be met throughout the lifecycle of the IMB building.

3 For example, assurances at the last public hearing that 'only' plant research would be conducted at the IMB counters statements to the contrary in press releases from the University (see attachment 1) and by Vice Chancellor John Hay at the open meeting on October 6, as well as the building specifications which show animal containment pens. If this was an integrated part of the development, how can it be so swiftly deleted without compromising the successful operation of the IMB? How will concerned parties know if animal research begins?

4 The IMB will be conducting commercially sensitive research which should not, and will not, be open to public scrutiny. How will residents know what is happening there?

5 The same legal status ­ public entity - which makes the university think it can ignore community concern and self-assess its conformity to local and state legislation poses another health and safety risk for the project. Scrutiny and regulation of the IMB in operation will be constrained by this planning status.

6 A detailed request for information on the risk profile of the IMB and emergency procedures in October was not answered and remains unanswered (see attachment 2). This indicates that the University and CSIRO do not know the answers, or are not revealing them to residents; either option is unacceptable considering potential risks to staff at the institute, students at the university, the public and neighbouring residents.

2.0 Lack of proper expert advice

7. Few experts are qualified to determine whether public health demands will be met now, over the lifecycle of the building, and during exceptional events such as human error and natural disaster, at a site which is surrounded by a very busy campus and residential homes. Australia is a newcomer to the field of biotechnology yet international practices for positioning and public safety do not appear to have been researched. Similar research centres at Munich University, for example, are well away from dense settlement. The environmental impact assessment (unavailable to residents but apparently under development by the CSIRO) is likely to be a standard document without the scope to assess the public health risk posed by the IMB.

8. An expert in risk assessment and emergency procedure such as Brisbane¹s Doctor Sally Leivesley should be called in to determine whether an installation like the IMB could develop appropriate safeguards at this location or if, as in similar international laboratory complexes such as Munich University, it needs to be sited away from dense settlement.

9. The University of Queensland¹s Geology Department has claimed for many years that south-east Queensland was at imminent risk of a major earthquake. The St Lucia campus was largely underwater during the 1974 floods. What allowances have been made in the design and operation of the IMB for such occurrences?

3.0 Health and safety inquiry about existing Cunningham Laboratory

10.  In relation to the existing Cunningham Laboratories on Carmody Road, Robyn Emerson placed an inquiry to the University on November 1 about a large exhaust pipe venting over the staff carpark on the Carmody Road side of the laboratory which she suspected was connected to a fume cupboard. The University of Queensland¹s Ms Cox agreed to act as a liaison with CSIRO and confirmed the exhaust pipe is connected to a fume cupboard. (A fume cupboard extracts various gaseous fumes produced in laboratory research processes. The normal reason for using a fume cupboard is that the fumes may have an adverse effect on people working in the vicinity). She was unable to say what was being released through the pipe but said she would investigate further. As of November 11, no further information has been received.

11. Depending on the material being released as exhaust, a fume pit is a health hazard in a number of circumstances. This one is within 20 metres of a residential home and 10 metres of the footpath. What is being released through this exhaust? How long has it been in operation? Has the Brisbane City Council been consulted about this, and about other operations in a laboratory so close to people¹s homes? What safeguards are in place?

4.0 Obstruction to residents seeking information on the IMB prior to this hearing

12. In the week of November 1 the University¹s recently appointed liaison officer Paul Bird told Robyn Emerson he would not answer questions from residents until after the Public Works Committee (PWC) sits on November 16 and that any questions should be forwarded to the PWC for answering at that hearing. This provides little opportunity for residents to properly research issues to be raised with the PWC.

13. The University and CSIRO have failed to provide appropriate information to the community in the lead-up to the Public Works Committee (PWC). The lack of information volunteered to residents, the reluctance or refusal of the university to respond to inquiries, the short period of time available before the hearing and the lay status of residents presents great difficulties in attempting to raise issues before the PWC.

14. 5.0 Lack of openness and transparency

15. Neither the University of Queensland or CSIRO¹s relationship with St Lucia residents over decades of cohabitation has been cooperative, open and transparent. A close and cooperative relationship over the years might have involved meetings with local residents to discuss University of Queensland campus issues, including emergency procedures in the event of an incident; invitations to visit the campus or the CSIRO¹s laboratory on Carmody Road to inspect existing operations; meetings between the Brisbane City Council, University and residents to resolve issues related to the impact of the campus; the development of a residents reference group; notification of incidents such as the explosion in the Steele Building which caused a death etc.

16. As raised at the last Public Works Committee hearing into the joint building project, the CSIRO exhibited its status as a poor neighbour by failing to contact residential neighbours at its Long Pocket site to inform them of a possum cull.

17. There is no evidence for residents to believe the University and CSIRO will now adopt the responsible, open and transparent relationship essential in positioning a 36,000m2 complex of laboratories within metres of people¹s homes.

6.0 Lack of community consultation

18. The public notice announcing the project failed to properly identify the site, giving no street address and using a name for the site which is not generally known in the residential community.

19. Although some Dell Road residents were able to view the model of the joint building project in September, it was only following three weeks of persistent, largely unreturned phonecalls.

20. Information was not volunteered to local residents until a letter drop announcing the public meeting of October 6 which was called by our Member of Parliament Denver Beanland, not the CSIRO or University of Queensland, according to Mr Beanland.

21. Following the open meeting, which ran out of time to answer residents¹ questions, further questions were tendered to the contact person identified by the University of Queensland at the meeting but were not answered. (See attachment 2)

22. An environmental impact statement was put under development at a late date with the results to be available at the same time as construction is to begin. That environmental impact statement¹s ability to answer community concerns is questionable considering that the community was not asked to input into its terms of reference.

7.0 Intimidation by the University of Queensland and Brisbane City Council

23. An alliance of the Brisbane City Council, State Government and University of Queensland ­ whose heads are all part of a committee supporting biotechnology - can be seen to have marginalised or ignored the safety and amenity of St Lucia residents inherent in the positioning of the IMB at this site. This coalition of interests has been apparent to the extent that Mr Soorley, after earlier promising to take a Œhard line¹ on the project, has backed down from legal action to ascertain whether the project is subject to the Integrated Planning Act. Premier Peter Beattie has labelled anyone opposing biotechnology as Œfruit loops¹. UQ Vice Chancellor John Hay has said he has ³nothing to say to people opposing the project¹.

University of Queensland staff visited homes owned by the University in Dell Road on November 9 and told residents to remove signs objecting to the project. They told one resident they were ³shocked² to see the signs and claimed the University¹s rental agreement precluded signs being placed on the property. The resident checked the rental agreement and there was no mention of signs on the property. On November 10, the Brisbane City Council sent a number of Local Law Officers out to tell residents at St Lucia and Long Pocket (where they are fighting a similar development) to take down their signs, claiming they would be fined "hundreds of dollars" for breaching a council by-law. Investigation showed there was no such by-law and Lord Mayor Jim Soorley repudiated the action on November 11.

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