Red necked Avocet, Westernport Bay. Photo by Michael Mann

This article first appeared in the February/March 2024 issue of The Bridge

Commonwealth Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek saves Western Port

On December 18, 2023, the Federal Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek made an extraordinary decision to block the Victorian Government proposal to use Hastings and Westernport Bay as the staging post for building the wind turbines for the State’s proposed offshore windfarms in Gippsland. The decision was made in accord with the Environmental Protection Biodiversity & Conservation (EPBC) Act.

It was only released on the EPBC public portal on January 5, this year. It took a couple of days for the decision to be understood by all parties, including Save Westernport.

What makes this decision so remarkable is that the Minister has used her powers under the EPBC Act to determine that this proposal would be so deleterious to the environment of Westernport, that it is ‘clearly unacceptable’ and is rejected without any further assessment.

This is unusual. Essentially, the Minister has three courses of action when a referral is made under the EPBC Act, as the Port of Hastings was required to do for this project (given that Westernport’s Ramsar wetlands are a Matter of National Environmental Significance under the EPBC Act).

The Minister can declare a proposal:

● Is clearly unacceptable

● is a ‘controlled action’ involving detailed further evidence-based assessment through an EES or similar

● allow the project on the basis that it does not impact on the environmental areas within her remit.

Like many others, members of Save Westernport assumed this project would be declared ‘a Controlled Action’, and we were preparing to participate in an Environment Effects Statement (EES) in 2024 to assess the impacts of the proposed facility on Westernport Bay. However, like many, we were unaware of the huge scale of dredging and land reclamation that the Port of Hastings’ staging area would require, the devastation this would create, and the everlasting impacts the proposal would have had on our beautiful Westernport Bay and its Ramsar Wetlands. Save Westernport congratulates Minister Plibersek for making this courageous decision, given the political implications. It shows this Minister can put the environment first – as she should.

The decision has placed Westernport and the importance of protecting and conserving its internationally significant ecosystems once again in the limelight. The decision also demonstrates once again why we need A Strategic Framework for Westernport, as we and our allies and friends pushed so hard for in the fallout of the AGL decision. To read the proposed framework and sign on to show support, please visit

The reasons for the Minister’s decision are extremely detailed, and demonstrate so many facets of the irreversible impacts of the wind farm proposal on our precious Ramsar site.

Quoting from the Statement of Reasons for the Decision, the Minister confirmed her acceptance of the advice of her department that: “Large areas of the Westernport Ramsar wetlands would be destroyed and reduced and …. Irreversible damage would be caused to the habitat of native species, waterbirds and migratory birds and the ecological character of the Ramsar wetlands.” Of critical note is that Minister Plibersek found that no level of mitigation would be able to offset this irreversible damage.

The full reasons for her decision are provided in the link below. They are comprehensive and defensible. There is no right of appeal but we understand the Victorian government, through the Port of Hastings Corporation can come back with a revised project.

What Next ? While this decision represents a setback for Victoria’s Offshore Windfarms and the State Govt’s Renewable energy goals, it is possible the Port of Hastings Corporation, as the proponent could revise their application. They would need to develop a smaller project with far fewer risks for Westernport Bay. We hope the Victorian government will listen and learn from this outcome and look to other sites for their important new windfarm project and that comprehensive consultations will emerge with all concerned parties.

Save Westernport supports the state government’s transition to renewable energy, and we hope a more suitable alternative location, or locations can be found to stage the roll out of Victoria’s Offshore Windfarms in Bass Strait.

by Jane Carnegie and Julia Stockigt