I would first like to say thank you for the invitation to come and speak today as i know this is not a forum to discuss melbourne’s water issues and the reasons why desalination is not the answer.
So thank you particularly to mary drost for the kind invitation to let me share with you briefly the story of the community group – your water your say – and what can only be described as an eye opening experience for our community.
Ywys was born on the bass coast when on the 19th june 2007, the then bracks government announced that we were to be the lucky recipients of a 40 hectare industrial water factory in our community.
To achieve this they are compulsorily acquiring 200 hectares and now talking about building a gas fired power plant alongside the desalination plant to power it.
I’m not sure if anyone knows the bass coast but it’s a beautiful, relatively rugged and unspoilt coastline. A bit of a rarity in victoria and particularly given its close proximity to melbourne.
I’d also point out that prior to this announcement there had been zero discussions with the community or even the council so it was a complete shock to the community.
For decades the community and the council has been vigorously pursuing planning protection for the coast line through various mechanisms including heritage overlays and through government processes such as the coastal spaces strategy and the victorian coastal strategy.
With hindsight now we wonder if perhaps it would have been beter having allowed for linear development as at least it would have been housing rather than an industrial complex that will consume the land and damage the environment.
So on the one hand you have volunteers / members of the community spending thousands of hours over decades being involved in protecting the coastline from private development, in conjunction with the state government, only to find that they themselves come in over the top – using public acquisition powers – and destroy the landscape in the name of securing water for melbourne.
To me, this gets to the heart of community engagement and community participation in our democracy.
If you want and expect people to be involved and engaged in their community and protecting the natural values for future generations then its inappropriate to effectively dump all the work that has been done and ignore the community when it suits.
From day one we have tried to engage the government in the pursuit of one question – please explaine and show the public the evaluations that you have conducted that clearly shows this desalination project is the best solution to melbourne’s water problem.
We thought that sounded like a reasonable question but despite numerous requests from our group and from the council, nothing has been forthcoming.
In addition the government continues to claim they are consulting with the community but you have to ask – how can you have real consultation when you’ve already made the decision, announced it to the world, put out an expression of interest to business and started to build the pilot plant and tunnel out to sea?
This government believes consultation on the issue is to ask us what trees we want planted and what color to paint the factory. That’s hardly consultation.
We are continuing to fight this proposal to build the largest desalination plant in australia on the bass coast even if our legal avenues to challenge the government look limited at present.
We decided to go down the legal path when we were faced with no other option.
When the government is not listening to you / to your community / to your council then where can you turn?
Popular mass movement is obviously one way to try to persuade the government but when you are a small community outside of melbourne, with no celebrity residents to help give you a public face - it is extremely difficult to be heard.
Dare i say impossible! It is difficult to win the media campaign with such limited funds and everyone is a volunteer doing this on top of their normal busy lives.
Particularly when the government publicly dismisses you as a bunch of whinners who are only concerned about their own back yard and not worried about the bigger crisis facing melbourne.
Countless hours (volunteer hours) have been spent putting together robust demand/supply analysis that show the plant is not required. They have been tested by credible experts and found to be solid.
But the response from the state government continues to simply be to dismiss you with a single sentence and not engage in the discussion.
Time and time again we are dismissed with one line responses to what is a complex issue.
In the end we decided we had to challenge the state and federal governments under the environmental laws to try to ensure that at the very least before work began on this massive project, that all the environmental assessments had been done and been made public for everyone to see and be subject to review.
We tried to include the pilot plant (that is being built as we speak) in the ees process and to bring it under the authority of the federal minister for the environment.
As you all know we failed in that legal challenge and now the governments (federal and state) are pursuing our group for court costs.
The interesting aspect here is that clearly they know we cannot afford to pay their costs. They had a team of qc’s, sc’s, barristers & solicitors and departmental staff.
We had one solicitor.
The balance is all wrong in this process.
The community cannot hope to put up an equal challenge to the government when we have to rely on donations and the good will of the legal profession (as was our case with michael morehead who represented us and sincere thanks goes out to him).
So at present we don’t know what the final amount will be that they will pursue us for as the state and federal governments have not yet triggered the federal court decision.
We are obviously hoping they won’t pursue it but the problem now is that the issue just hangs there, like a sword over our head.
We can only speculate as to when or if they will decide to actually pursue us and it creates an uncertainty that they possibly think will reduce our enthusiasm or weaken our resolve.
To end i’ll finish with this comment.
Whatever happens to the your water your say action group inc., is to some extent irrelevant as it does not change the community’s opposition to the desalination plant, it in fact strengthens and invigorates our resolve to try to stop it being built.
Not just on the bass coast but anywhere in victoria as we would not want to dump what has happened to us on any other community in victoria.
Thankyou very much for listening.