The Battle's not over - We must remain vigilant

IN THE Bass electorate, there was an 11 per cent swing against the Coalition last Saturday. It was even higher on Phillip Island, with the strongest anti-port candidate, independent Clare Le Serve, effectively picking up those votes.

 

The Preserve Western Port Action Group is pleased with the election result and the support shown to candidates who opposed the Coalition’s plans for an international container terminal in Western Port. 

But this is just the end of the beginning, and the start of the next phase to preserve Western Port forever and ensure the container terminal option and industrialisation plan do not re-emerge. As a result of the Western Port scenario planning workshop held in July, we know there are better options for Western Port. 

Some lessons

The Coalition was intent on fast-tracking their container port plan even without a business case. The Port of Hastings Development Authority lured some well-meaning community representatives to join their “community consultation” group PORTICIPATE. However, when these members informed the authority of issues and concerns, the authority usually responded that key issues would be responded to after the election.

This approach effectively stymied community discussion and made community engagement in some areas more challenging.

The Preserve Western Port Action Group (PWP) was formed in March 2014 and immediately began to inform the community of the plans and to identify key concerns based on detailed research.

We developed strong partnerships with other groups opposed to the plans: the Victorian National Parks Association, Sea Shepherd, Western Port Protection Council and French Island Port Stoppers. We engaged with the community at markets, art shows, radio programs, boat ramps and local schools, “Save the Bay Picnic Day” and “The Port that doesn’t makes no Sense or Cents”.  We also worked with the Bass Coast Shire Council to develop a council policy position on the port proposal that was ultimately adopted by the MAV on behalf of all Victorian councils.

As community concerns about plans for the port increased, the Coalition offered last-minute election sweeteners, including funding of a report for the Phillip Island Stand Alone group, $21 million to relocate Wonthaggi Secondary College, $25 million for the next stage of Wonthaggi hospital, and $2.3 million to rebuild the Cowes CFA. 

Next steps

Following our successes and high community profile, the community has approached PWP to widen our focus to other Western Port issues on both land and water. The community appears to be seeking genuine, non-party-political leadership to preserve the bay and guide future sustainable developments.

After a short break, our dedicated and passionate volunteers will refocus and look to expand our membership and reach. We will then be in an even stronger position to represent the interests of the community and guide future developments in this area.

The new ALP Government intends to set up a new organisation, Infrastructure Victoria, to decide on the need and location of a new container port for Victoria. It will rely on submissions to enable it to decide and advise the Government.

At this stage, the Coalition in opposition has not publicly stated the submission they will present, but Coalition supporters and other vested interests will no doubt lodge comprehensive submissions seeking to reinstate the Hastings proposal. 

PWP will undertake detailed research to produce a submission that includes the economic, environmental and social impacts of building an international container terminal in Western Port. We will seek further industry and community engagement as we build the case. 

The bay has had a near-death experience and the community has expressed its alarm to us, to local candidates and at the ballot box. Now is the time to re-engage. We urge further interested, passionate and visionary people and organisations to join with our group as we chart the way forward. 

We need to stop the pursuit of the 50-year-old plan by the former Liberal Government to industrialise Western Port. The world has moved on and we need to embrace a sustainable future for Western Port and our community.

Jeff Nottle is chairman of the Preserve Western Port action group.