Day 4, Thursday 15th October AGL EES hearings by Chris Atmore

Thursday 15 October (Day Four)


The day began with the IAC announcing that they will make a further site visit next Monday, but that they hope when COVID restrictions permit, to make an accompanied visit at some point. It’s also been agreed that where expert witnesses have not been able to visit the site and therefore can’t answer some questions, they may be later recalled to add to their answers.


Port of Hastings Development Authority (PoHDA) then presented its arguments (no witnesses so they couldn’t be cross-examined). It’s fair to say that PoHDA echo the proponents in their enthusiasm for the project (see Docs 2700 and 231), including insisting that the Port is naturally deepwater, already long-term industrial, and in their words ‘open for business’. They say there is already a significant suite of policies and planning controls to support the project and that they are well used to balancing the needs of the Port against those of the environment.


PoHDA presented a slide show which the IAC pointed out needed to be clearer and annotated, particularly relating to the Crib Point Jetty. What came through is that none of the Port jetties regularly have ships the size of the FSRU. However, they’ve already got the necessary approvals to remediate the CP Jetty so it can accommodate project construction. PoHDA identifies Crib Point as strategically important for importing bulk liquids and gases and says this is consistent with current and future Government approved plans for the Port and Crib Point.


The IAC, and submitters through Counsel Assisting Jason Kane, asked a number of questions on notice (meaning answers will be provided later).


The afternoon was taken up with the evidence and examination of the proponent’s expert planning witness, Andrew Biasci (Docs 68 and 176), who is involved in the drafting of the Incorporated Document that is the basis for the proposed planning scheme changes.


Mr Biasci’s focus was on land use impacts, and his evidence dovetailed with the PoHDA’s in terms of the claimed suitability of the Port for the project. He did however introduce a new phrase, ‘sunken investment’ – meaning ‘we’ve spent all this money on infrastructure so industry shouldn’t be stopped unless you’ve got a really good reason’.


Mr Biasci also echoed proponent and PoHDA assertions that the project has State significance and so it should be encouraged and signed off on by the Planning Minister rather than the MP Shire Council. He was confident that there are enough existing checks and balances that there is no need for a detailed economic or tourism report. Visual impacts are also to be expected in a working Port and in his view the EES is addressing these appropriately.


In cross-examination, Counsel Assisting asked whether visual and landscape impacts should be considered as part of managing the construction stage. Mr Biasci did not think so. Mr Kane also drew out a number of possible gaps and uncertainties in the Incorporated Document (ID), including whether MP Council is expected to play at least some role in enforcing the planning amendments. Referring to a clause in the ID which refers to Council, the community and other stakeholders, Mr Kane asked who ‘the community’ is and the response was that this is to be determined (making us wonder what the claimed stakeholder consultation by AGL was for).


Mr Kane noted that another clause in the ID refers to various plans associated with the Project, including the Operation Environmental Management Plan, only being made available on the proponent’s website until the project starts operating. The response seemed to suggest that this clause was just lifted from another project without any specific consideration of the ramifications.  


Rupert Watters then took over for the MP and Bass Coast Shire Councils. He raised questions about whether the various policies such as Plan Melbourne actually supported the project in the way that Mr Biasci suggested, because those policies aim to actively improve the environment or prioritise environmental protection over development, and that’s not what the project would do.


Mr Watters also presented a map from the Melbourne Industrial and Commercial Land Use Plan that shows that in fact Crib Point is only of regional significance (the State significance area does not start until north of Long Island Jetty).


Finally Robert Forrester, for our combined environment group, extracted an agreement from Mr Biasci that there is nothing in the EES that claims if the Project is denied approval that it will be detrimental to the Port of Hastings. Mr Forrester also hammered home the lack of State significance argument for Crib Point, and left us with the implications that the witness’s conclusions overly rely on Port strategy, which has weaker persuasive authority than legislation.