(This article first appeared in the February 2023 edition of The Bridge)
Happy New Year to all lovers of the Bay!
2023 is already shaping up to be as busy as 2022 for Save Westernport. If we
thought the rejection of AGL’s plans in 2021 would mean a reprieve for
Western Port Bay we were mistaken.
In 2022 we were delighted by the success of campaigns to Save Flinders Pier,
and Save Arthurs Seat, and we congratulate those groups on their stellar
For Save Westernport and Westernport Peninsula Protection Council (WPPC),
the year began with our protest at the arrival of Kawasaki’s coal-to-hydrogen
transport ship in the Port of Hastings.
A ‘small fire’ onboard the ship, that remains the subject of an investigation by
the Marine Transport Safety Bureau, and a failure to produce enough
hydrogen to fill the ship, saw Japan’s experimental hydrogen project
abandoned, despite over $100million invested by Victorian and federal
governments. The unpopular project’s reliance on unproven Carbon Capture
and Storage technology probably also had something to do with the decision.
It’s doubtful whether hydrogen will continue to be produced at the purpose
built coal fractionalisation plant at Loy Yang, but we were extremely pleased to
hear representatives at the Port of Hastings community consultation meeting
last April confirm that Westernport’s involvement in the Kawasaki project had
Another milestone for Westernport was the removal of exHMAS Otama
Oberon class submarine from its berth at Crib Point. Parks Victoria was finally
able to arrange to have the stricken vessel towed out of the Bay and back to
Fremantle W.A. whence it came, where it has been broken up for scrap.
The Cold War relic had been languishing at its deteriorating moorings since
2001 after a Federation grant of $500,000, and support from former member
for Flinders, Mr Greg Hunt saw the WP Oberon Appreciation Society arrange to
have it brought into Westernport, with dreams of it becoming a World Class
After the submarine was left to deteriorate for over 20 years, with no progress
on the plans in sight, Save Westernport and concerned community members
began lobbying for its removal, writing to the Minister for Ports, and the
Minister for the Environment. We implored them to intervene after the sub
broke its moorings during a winter storm in 2021. To the great alarm of the
community, we soon learned that the submarine was an environmental
disaster waiting to happen, with 228 tonnes of lead acid batteries, containing
34,000 litres of sulphuric acid, some 1000 l of diesel fuel, and an unknown
quantity of hydraulic fluid left on board the rusting sub.
The enormous job of safely removing it cost taxpayers several million dollars.
No doubt many were disappointed to see it go, but Save Westernport counts
Otama’s removal as a win for Westernport’s marine and coastal ecology, and
for the future of the Bay.
In 2022 we held Save Westernport’s information stall at Womindjeka
Balnarring, and the Balnarring Primary School’s Sustainability Fair, and joined
with Environment Vic, VNPA and Voices of the Peninsula to host a forum of
Candidates for Hastings in the Victorian State Election.
Save Westernport made submissions to the State government’s Roadmap Off
Gas, supporting the transition away from gas towards renewable energy in
Victoria, and wrote to the committee advising the Planning Minister on the
DAL Distinctive Areas and Landscapes planning protections for the Bass Coast.
Our submission endorsed the marvellous work of our friends at Save Western
Port Woodlands, and their efforts to protect significant tracts of remnant
coastal forest on the Bass Coast from commercial applications to expand the
destructive, unnecessary and environmentally irresponsible practice of
sandmining on the Bass Coast, just across the Bay on Westernport’s eastern
In July Save Westernport presented to the EES hearing for VIVA’s proposal for
an FSRU next to the Ramsar wetlands in Corio Bay near Geelong. Later in the
year, with the support of French Island residents, we appeared as the primary
objecting party at the hearing against Esso’s application for a gas-fired power
station. Esso has applied to shoehorn the facility within their outdated,
dangerous and heavily polluting gas plant at Long Island Point in Hastings.
We were particularly concerned by what we saw as Esso’s preparedness to act
without due responsibility towards the people of Hastings, whose health and
amenity have been compromised for over 50 years by Esso’s commercial
operations, involving heavy emissions through flaring at Long Island Point.
It could certainly be said that Esso’s approach lacked transparency throughout
the application process for this project. It was defined by several questionable
practices, like neglecting to offer a community consultation program, with the
likely aim of allowing the project and its many impacts to escape the scrutiny
of an environmental assessment, while it slipped beneath the community’s
To bring attention to Esso’s plans, and to a recommendation within council to
approve the application, members of Save Westernport presented our
concerns to a MP Council Planning Services meeting, securing the Council’s
objection to Esso’s application, and gaining support for our call to the Planning
Minister for an EES, that was repeated in a submission by the Western Port
Biosphere. While our request for an EES was unsuccessful, the Minister agreed
to have the application assessed by a Planning Panel hearing that ran
throughout November last year.
While we await the outcomes of the VIVA and Esso hearings, our work has
begun to prepare for the hearing into the DAL assessment that is due to begin
At the preliminary Directions hearing on Dec 13 we were delighted to hear a
member of the Sth Gippsland Conservation Society call on the Standing
Advisory Committee overseeing the hearing to request expert advice from
DELWP on the impacts of biodiversity loss, to ensure it receives due
consideration in the DAL planning protections in coming decades on the Bass
It seems to be standard practice for the Department of Environment Land
Water and Planning, (DELWP) to be called upon to advise government-
appointed committees on matters of Planning. While it routinely falls to
community groups with limited resources to raise funds to allow expert
environmental witnesses to give evidence and to assess the claims of
corporations and project proponents. Without these witnesses, there is
literally no one appointed to advise the government’s appointed committees
on the less commercial, but infinitely more far-reaching considerations of
avoiding harm to the environment, and limiting impacts on critical matters like
biodiversity and climate. So it was wonderful to hear someone else
acknowledge this situation, with their request to the committee to seek out a
government expert on biodiversity to advise them.
At the conclusion of the DAL hearing in 2023 the Standing Advisory Committee
(SAC) will be charged with the monumental responsibility of making a
recommendation to the Minister for Planning, about how the impacts of
industrialisation and urban sprawl on the Bass Coast should be managed for
the next 50 years.
Many of us were concerned by the dozens of legal representatives for property
developers and other commercial interests that made themselves known at
the Directions hearing. The Sth Gippsland Conservation Society, Vic National
Parks Association and Save Western Port Woodlands have responded by
aligning to raise funds to retain a barrister to represent them at the DAL
hearing in March.
For more information go to SaveWesternPortWoodlands.org
Towards the end of last year the Port of Hastings invited Save Westernport to
be briefed on the Victorian government’s Offshore Windfarm project. If all
goes to plan the windfarm will be constructed and maintained out of
Westernport for decades to come.
While we welcome the news of this renewable energy project for Victoria, and
the jobs it would create, we’re conscious of what a project of this size would
mean for the Bay. The Andrews government has committed to holding an
Environmental Effects Statement, or EES to assess the impacts of the project,
and we anticipate this being a central focus for Save Westernport in 2023.
If we decide to support the construction of the Offshore Windfarm in Bass
Strait, Save Westernport will aim to see that the project complies with World’s
Best Practice and the Precautionary Principles in its construction and
Save Westernport will make a submission and participate in the EES, with the
aim of representing community views, and providing expert witnesses to
scrutinise reports of the proponent, the Port of Hastings. We’ll need to make
sure Westernport is not compromised by its involvement in staging the
construction and maintenance of one of Victoria’s biggest infrastructure
projects in years.
We hope you’ll continue to support our voluntary work by becoming a
Member of Save Westernport, and renewing your annual membership
You can log on to SaveWesternport.org to sign up to receive our regular
newsletter updates, to make a donation, or to find out how you can become
involved in the ongoing work to Save Westernport!
We’ll leave you with a reminder about one of our most exciting projects in
2022— our collaboration with Victoria National Parks Association, the Western
Port Biosphere Reserve, Environment Victoria and Westernport Peninsula
Protection Council to develop a bold new plan to protect Westernport Bay in
perpetuity. Log on to Actforwesternportbay.au to read the new protection framework and
register your support as an individual, group or business. We hope to show
plenty of local support for the plan when we present it to Environment
Minister Lily D’Ambrosio in 2023.
You’ll find the link on the Save Westernport landing page
Save Westernport recognises that Westernport belongs to the Bunurong—
Boon Wurrung peoples, who never ceded ownership rights over these Lands