The Directions Hearing for the Environment Effects Statement on AGL’s gas import proposal was held on September 17.
For the first time an EES Hearing will be live-streamed via video link due to COVID restrictions.
The Hearings will be chaired by Kathy Mitchell, Chief member of the five-member Inquiry Advisory Committee Panel. The Panel was appointed by the Victorian Minister for Planning, Richard Wynne to oversee the EES Hearings and advise him of their findings at its conclusion.
Ms Mitchell was clear and direct, explaining the purpose of the Directions Hearing, and laying out the schedule. The Panel Hearings will review the Environment Effects Statement that AGL prepared, and the thousands of submissions that the public has written in response.
The IAC Hearings will begin October 12, continuing every day except Fridays and weekends until mid December. The Panel will break for Christmas and return their finding sometime in mid-February
The Hearings will be live streamed, and recordings made available the following day along with other information on the EngageVic IAC website here
At the Directions Hearing, each of the Panel members introduced themselves, followed by the legal teams for the represented parties. These were:
– The local Mornington Peninsula Shire Council
– Cardinia Shire Council
– Key community and environmental groups Save Westernport, Environment Victoria and Victoria National Parks Association, (VNPA) represented by Environmental Justice Australia (EJA)
– the Proponents AGL, and pipeline company APA
– the Port of Hastings Development Authority
– the EPA
An article about the Directions Hearing appeared in the Australian Financial Review the following day.
Probably the two most important aspects of the Directions Hearing were.
1. Legal Counsel for Mornington Peninsula Shire Council (MPSC) requested the Hearings to be adjourned on the grounds that expert witnesses have not been able to conduct necessary site inspections due to current Stage 4 Lockdown restrictions.
They argued that it would be procedurally unfair to require expert witnesses for the Council and other groups to give evidence on subjects including visual amenity, marine impacts, coastal flora and fauna, traffic and more, without the benefit of visiting the various locations that would be affected by AGL’s project.
The IAC Panel seemed reluctant to allow any change to the Hearing schedule, but gave no reason for the rushed agenda.
In May this year AGL CEO Brett Redman claimed in The AGE that the EES process should be ‘fast-tracked’.
There is concern that this might have influenced Minister Wynne’s decision to proceed with the EES in the midst of the difficulties of COVID-19, and escalating lockdown restrictions.
The Minister for Planning refused to be swayed by appeals from Save Westernport, from the Mornington Peninsula Mayor, local Member for Flinders Greg Hunt MP, and hundreds of members of the community, asking him to consider how the limitations of the pandemic would compromise people’s ability to write submissions and participate in the Public Hearings if the EES were allowed to proceed with COVID restrictions still in effect.
This will be the first time an EES Hearing has ever had to operate remotely, and just as when our submissions were written, AGL could benefit from the considerable challenges of COVID-19.
Witnesses for AGL have been able to visit the area for the past two years without restrictions, but our experts may not even have the chance to see the proposed locations before their evidence will be required at the Hearing.
Groups including Save Westernport will have difficulty advising their legal teams when neither can be present at the Hearings.
In response to the request for an adjournment, the IAC Chair asked whether the local Council could simply issue permits to allow expert witnesses to visit the proposed locations. Panel members we’re issued with permits to visit the area last week.
In his response the Shire’s legal Counsel referred to the State government’s list of exemptions to COVID restrictions, pointing out that it does not allow for witnesses.
The Panel Chair stated that twice during their recent visit to the area, the Members’ vehicle was stopped by local police patrols to check their permits and ask where the group was going.
According to Ms Mitchell, unless permits for site visits can be arranged, we may have to accept that our expert witnesses will have to give evidence without the benefit of ever viewing the areas they’re required to report on.
Nevertheless, expert witnesses will play an important role, challenging AGL and the information they provided in their EES reports during the Hearings.
You can help us meet to costs of providing expert witnesses by DONATING to Save Westernport’s Fundraising campaign here. Expert witnesses will test AGL’s claims, and present detailed evidence on key subjects at the Hearings.
2. The second point of interest resulting from the Directions Hearing was Panel Chair Kathy Mitchell’s announcement that the IAC overseeing the Hearings and the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council have each issued AGL and APA with requests for further information that was not available in their EES reports.
Among the many tabled documents on the IAC website, are the extensive lists of further information that the proponents must supply.
These requests confirm what we discovered when AGL’s EES reports became available: they lack important detail and rely on flawed modelling, questionable data and incorrect assumptions.
The lists of extra information required by the IAC Panel and Mornington Peninsula Shite Council are extensive and include requests for details of tidal and weather conditions that should’ve been provided with the original field work in the original EES reports and pipeline application.
Data on greenhouse gas emissions, on the handling of chlorine and formaldehyde, management of contamination by potential acid sulphate soil (PASS), management of increased truck traffic, the inadequacy of mitigation strategies and disposal of the oily sludge produced during regasification are further examples of the kind of extra information that is sought.
Other examples were listed in an article in the Financial Review this week.
AGL needed two years to prepare their EES reports. They now have until September 25 to provide all the requested information.
Counsel for the proponent AGL, Mr Townsend attempted to make light of the requests, claiming that additional information is routinely requested at this stage. However, if these details were available to AGL, surely they would have included it in their original EES it was released.
Panel Chair, Ms Mitchell provided this list of the main themes emerging in the public submissions so far.
Members of the public who made submissions on the EES will be able to address the Panel at the Public Hearings. Whether people initially requested to speak for one hour or one minute, the large numbers of people wanting to address the Panel has made it necessary for spoken submissions from the public to be limited to just 8 minutes each.
This stage of the Hearings probably won’t commence until about mid November, and everyone who applied to speak will address the Panel via Zoom video link.
The IAC is accepting suggestions for sites that the Panel should visit until Friday September 25. Suggested sites should be marked up using this map book
For more information contact Andrea Harwood or Georgia Thomas of Planning Panels Victoria (03) 8392 5116
The Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has suggested sites on French Island, Woolleys Beach and Warringine Park for members of the Panel to visit.
Warringine Park, between Crib Point and Hastings lies within the Westernport Ramsar site. The Park is considered significant to the survival of critically endangered migratory bird species, including the Far Eastern Curlew and the Fairy Tern.
If the project ever went ahead, Warringine Park would be severely impacted by the construction of a new gas pipeline that would bisect its fragile wetlands.
A Virtual Tour of Warringine Park is available here
Bass Coast Council has also suggested several a locations on Phillip Island.
If AGL proceeded with their deeply unpopular plans, upper estimates of 40 LNG tankers per year would increase commercial shipping traffic in Westernport by as much as 40% for the next twenty years.
The ever-present spectre of AGL’s proposed floating gas factory at Crib Point, the visiting LNG tankers, dredging (‘levelling’) and diesel-belching tug boats, would permanently change the character of Westernport, altering its horizon from nearly every vista and vantage point around the Bay.
This and other disastrous impacts and safety concerns are explained Save Westernport’s submission against the AGL proposal and EES. Read it here.
Despite the limitations and difficulties of COVID, we should congratulate ourselves that a total of 6,059 submissions have officially been received in opposition to the AGL proposal.
A controversial decision by Planning Panels Victoria has resulted in thousands of submissions not being included in the official tally.
The decision not to include several thousand submissions because they were lodged using an alternative government email address, has been disappointing.
Understandably, people have been angered and confused, particularly because we know that the submissions were received before the deadline.
Though they won’t be counted as individual submissions, Planning Panels Victoria has said that they WILL be reviewed and the information they contain will be taken into account.
The official total is still many times greater than numbers usually received for EES projects in Victoria, which indicates the extent of community interest, concern and overwhelming opposition to AGL’s plans.
Remember, Save Westernport is still raising urgently needed funds to take on AGL at the Panel Hearings on October 12.
Save Westernport will be represented by Environmental Justice Australia, but we are still short of our target to provide legal Counsel, and engage expert witnesses to challenge the technical and ecological information contained in AGL’s EES reports.
The average cost of an expert witness to provide a report and undergo cross examination by AGL’s barristers is over $5,000 each.
You can help by donating towards the costs of our expert witnesses and legal representation. Our barristers will be required to attend up to ten weeks of Hearings, and will be appearing at a greatly reduced rate.
If you’re able to help us challenge AGL, and ensure that the community is represented at the EES Hearings,
We are determined to demonstrate how inappropriate and unnecessary AGL’s Gas import plans in Westernport really are.
Did you know the AGL corporation will be holding their Annual General Meeting , AGM, on October 7 2020. ?
The AGM is as an important opportunity to raise our concerns with shareholders and board members, about the lack of Social License and absence of community approval for the Crib Point proposal.
The hypocrisy of the AGL corporation’s widespread misrepresentation of their image as a responsible, innovative company is legendary.
Despite giving lipservice to energy innovation and admirable sounding Sustainability Policies, the truth is ofcourse, in practice AGL is exactly opposite, and we aim to challenge them on this whenever we can.
AGL wants to prolong the country’s hopeless dependence on gas, because it provides them with such enormous profits. They do this by postponing the inevitable uptake of sustainable energy solutions by promoting new fossil fuels projects like Crib Point..
It’s likely that sustainable energy solutions would far more advanced, and could be ready to roll out now if not for AGL spending several years and hundreds of millions of dollars attempting to gain approval for their dangerous, inappropriate, irresponsible and out dated gas proposal at Crib Point.
But companies like AGL are under increasing pressure from their own shareholders and insurers to get with the times and do what is required by the Climate emergency.
The emphasis they put on renewables in their own advertising demonstrates the unmistakable awareness from within the highest levels of their strategic planning departments.
They know exactly their shareholders realise gas is no transition fuel, and that they expect more. They want responsible action on climate, and meaningful investment in sustainable projects, rather than having just a symbolic commitment that manifests only in their ‘greenwashing’ and advertising.
This year the AGL AGM will be streamed online, due to current COVID restrictions.
Only shareholders are eligible to attend their AGM.
However if you or someone you know holds AGL shares, and would consider allowing your shareholder status to be used by someone wanting to ask a question at the AGM, it is your right to allow a proxy shareholder to attend the AGM on your behalf.
This is a legitimate and frequently used way to affect change in the corporate realm, used to great effect by groups like Sea Shepard, Market Forces and Friends of the Earth.
If you’d like to know more, please contact Save Westernport at firstname.lastname@example.org
Save Westernport and Environment Victoria are planning an Action to protest online and send our message to Boardmembers, shareholders and the media, that this community will NEVER accept AGL’s plans to import fossil fuels in Westernport.
We know we have the support of our local Mornington Peninsula Shire Council , and Bass Coast Council, who have each declared a Climate Emergency, and have voted to oppose AGL in Westernport.
In February 2020, the Bass Coast Shire Council Announced:
1. Council declares its strong opposition to the development of fossil fuel assets on Western Port and in particular, opposition to the AGL’s proposed Gas Import Jetty project for Crib Point.
2. That Council will write to the Premier advising him that:
2.1 Council has declared a climate emergency and is currently developing a comprehensive Climate Emergency Action Plan pursuing a community target of zero net emissions by 2030.
2.2. Council strongly opposes further fossil fuel developments in Victoria and is opposed to the further industrialisation of Western Port to transport them.
Watch this space for regular updates and details of our AGM plans.