Over the past week, The Courier has heard dozens of stories from ex-workers and families of deceased workers from depots including Ballarat, Sebastopol, Beaufort, Clunes, Daylesford, Linton, Avoca, Maryborough, Buninyong and Meredith.
The inquiry, which would be established under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, would take submissions and have the power to call on witnesses.
The Courier has identified 17 former Victorian Lands Department weed eradicators in the region who have died, mostly from illness including various cancers.
There is currently no clear link between the deaths of the former workers and their exposure to toxic chemicals.
However, former Linton depot spray hand Ewen Ching believes his exposure to toxic chemicals led to several diseases and disorders. Former Linton depot spray hand Ewen Ching attributes most of his current illnesses to working with chemicals.
Mr Ching became sick two years after taking a redundancy package in 1998 when symptoms of peripheral neuropathy – a nerve disease – appeared. Mr Ching now battles Parkinson’s disease, sleep apnoea (a throat disorder that blocks the airways), diverticulitis (a bowel disease), a dysfunctional pancreas, a swollen prostate and cysts on his liver and kidney.
“These poisons caused a lot of what I’ve got,” Mr Ching said. “With all these sicknesses I’ve got, it’s gotta be caused by something.”
Australian Workers Union Victorian branch secretary Ben Davis said Labor’s commitment was a huge step forward.
“The AWU … calls upon the Napthine government to call an independent inquiry now so that the community can finally get some answers to some very troubling questions about the exposure of state government employees and others to these chemicals and the health effects of this.”
Earlier this week, the state government pledged to have the Department of Environment and Primary Industries – the successor to the Lands Department – conduct an internal investigation into the matter in collaboration with the Victorian WorkCover Authority. Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith could not be contacted before deadline.