PARK WATCH June 2021 |
Nature Conservation Campaigner Shannon Hurley celebrates and explains what the decision to reject AGL’s gas import terminal means for the future of Westernport Bay.
It was late Tuesday morning on 30 March when we got word that the Victorian Planning Minister had made his decision on the future of Westernport Bay.
Would it be full of wildlife – or full of gas? After more than three years of sweat and tears, this was the question we were waiting to be answered.
It all came down to this moment. A message on my phone said the Premier’s Office had made a statement
The headline of the media release read, “Gas proposal ruled out due to environmental impacts”. It continued:
“The Andrews Labor Government today ruled out a proposal to establish a gas import terminal at Crib Point in Western Port and construct a pipeline from the terminal to Pakenham.
Minister for Planning Richard Wynne concluded marine discharges from the proposed AGL and APA project would have unacceptable effects on the environment in Western Port, which is listed as a Ramsar wetland of international significance”.
Now, these are the kind of words you want to read in an email! I must admit, I had to read it a few times to make sure I understood correctly. I may have even pinched myself to make sure I was awake.
Many of us on the campaign jumped on a video call. At first, there was silence. Some of us were smiling, some were in shock and lost for words – and from others, there were various expletives exclaimed!
For the past three years, VNPA had been involved, but this had been a much longer battle for the communities and groups who call Westernport Bay home.
For many, their livelihoods were at stake, with their businesses dependent on a healthy nature playground close to Melbourne. For others, it was their way of life, where they grew up, where they live, where they have raised families, and they couldn’t bear to see their backyard destroyed. For countless more, it was simply a beautiful place to go on the weekends, fishing, camping, kayaking, swimming or bird watching.
So many passionate people came together to stand against the threat to Westernport Bay. They wrote letters, engaged their communities on social media, starred in videos, were interviewed by the media, organised ‘paddle-outs’ and rallies, gathered on parliament steps, spoke at public hearings – many had never done anything like this before.
And our many thanks to those within the VNPA community who also made generous donations to power our part in the campaign. Thousands of hours were invested in reading and analysing reports, monitoring weeks of public hearings, working with barristers to prepare presentations, and defending and arguing the science.
None of VNPA’s work would have been possible without the support and generosity of our donors and members.
But it all paid off. It is truly amazing what people are capable of when we come together with a shared vision and choose to step out of our comfort zone and care for what we cherish.
What an absolute honour to work alongside such dedicated and determined community members and other groups and organisations, including Save Westernport, Environment Victoria, Environmental Justice Australia, Westernport Peninsula Protection Council, Friends of French Island, Mornington Peninsula Shire Council, and many more.
This tight collaboration of groups and individuals working closely was a real strength of the campaign, with such diversity of voices from a range of backgrounds and interests all speaking out together.
VNPA sends a massive congratulations and thank you to the local community and the groups and organisations for your endless efforts; to our supporters for making submissions, contributing financially, and for your continued backing of the campaign over the years; to our experts who worked tirelessly to communicate the science – to everyone who has been involved or taken action in some capacity. We also thank the Victorian Government for taking bold and historic action to protect one of Victoria’s most incredible wildlife havens and for putting nature and the health of the community first.
This is a win for nature and for community!
Since the Planning Minister made his decision, AGL has revoked their application to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) and under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
It was all officially over on 3 May, when AGL put out an official media release announcing their pursuit of Westernport was over: “AGL Energy Limited (AGL) today has confirmed it will cease any further development of the proposed liquified natural gas (LNG) import jetty at Crib Point.”
This is a truly historic decision to protect the future of these wild and wonderful wetlands.
This campaign (and many others that have come before it) demonstrates the passion the community have for protecting Westernport Bay. This should be a clear message that this sensitive marine and coastal environment is off-limits to risky and dangerous industrialisation.
So now the question is, how do we make sure Westernport Bay is protected forever?
To take a brief glimpse back to the history of industrial threats to Westernport Bay:
- 1960s: Victorian Premier Henry Bolte states that Western Port will become an industrial heartland, “Victoria’s Ruhr Valley”.
- 1963–66: BP Australia establishes oil refineries at Crib Point.
- 1967: Nuclear power station on French Island proposed – plan abandoned.
- 1968: Phillip Island Conservation Society forms in response to proposal for marina at Rhyll Inlet –community campaigned against and stopped it.
- 1970: Esso opens gas fractionation plant at Long Island Point.
- 1971: Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council forms in response to proposal for refinery at Bittern.
- 1986: Canal development at Ventnor proposed – community campaign against and stopped it.
- 1987: Ammonia–Urea plant at Crib Point proposed – community campaigned against it.
- 1992: Oil import terminal at Crib Point proposed – community campaigned against it.
- 2007: Bitumen Plant at Crib Point proposed – community campaigned against and stopped it.
- 2010: State government announces Port of Hastings will be Australia’s biggest container port – stopped by a huge community campaign with involvement by VNPA.
- 2018: AGL proposes gas import terminal at Crib Point. Save Westernport forms in response. And we now know how that ended!
- The industrial base at Westernport is declining, with fewer than 150 ships per year using the port. But the temptation for many is to only see this place as a port, not for the natural environment that it is. Without better protection, we will end up fighting the same battle over and over.
We need to take this victory and use the momentum we have all created to achieve longer-term protection of this unique tidal ecosystem and all the rich diversity of plant and animal life and habitats it contains.
Options include advocating for the expansion of current or new marine national parks, applying for national heritage listing, or using the new Victorian planning tool of marine spatial planning. An Environmental Management Plan (EMP), like the one Port Phillip Bay has, would be a good start.
According to Victorian Government reports, “the new Marine and Coastal Act 2018 now provides a mechanism to develop a comprehensive EMP for Westernport”. However, we are not aware of any development process for this important document. Now is the time.
VNPA will continue to work alongside others to pursue this. If you have any bright ideas, we would welcome hearing them (email [email protected]).
To finish, and on behalf of many of us, we send waves of gratitude to nature for the incredible diversity and richness of wildlife and wild places and to the elements that make living in and visiting Westernport Bay possible and precious.
Some words from the community and other organisations:
Jane Carnegie, Save Westernport:
“Science and good sense have won out. The government has listened to us and to the thousands of people in our community who have worked tirelessly to save our beautiful environment from a potential catastrophe.
Save Westernport hopes this decision paves the way for greater environmental protections over Westernport, and we look forward to working with the Andrews Government to make that happen.”
Environment Victoria CEO Jono La Nauze:
“We congratulate the Andrews Government on listening to the community and the science and rejecting this polluting and completely inappropriate development for Westernport Bay.”
Phillip Island Conservation Society president Jeff Nottle:
“This is excellent news for Phillip Island’s economy, environment, eco-tourism income and local jobs. Our economy is dependent on a healthy environment. AGL’s plan would have ruined the reputation of Westernport Bay, costing the local tourism industry tens of millions of dollars in lost visitor expenditure.”
Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council Secretary Karri Giles:
“WPPC welcomes Minister Wynne’s decision to disallow AGL’s proposal to import gas at Crib Point and pipe it to Pakenham. We had a chance to save Woolleys Cove, an important fish and squid nursery, and we took it. We stood up against the building of the pipeline with a 171-hectare footprint. Congratulations to all supporters.”
French Island Community Association secretary Linda Bowden:
“French Islanders have consistently opposed this project since its announcement, and today we are very relieved that the Minister has listened to the overwhelming community outcry and will act to protect the fragile ecology of the Bay for the wildlife it supports, the community that loves it and the sustainable businesses that rely on its health.”
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