The IAC Hearings ~ Day two by Chris Atmore

Tuesday 13 October (Day Two)

Our barrister successfully argued for Save Westernport to be permitted to address the IAC separately from the legal team for the three joint organisations.

The EPA said that whether discharging chlorine and cold water into our Ramsar wetland is allowable is a question that relies on how the Water SEPP – the relevant environmental policy – should be interpreted, and this hasn’t ever been tested. At this stage it’s not clear how much the IAC will leave for the EPA when the EPA decide after the Hearing whether to approve the FSRU works approval application.

The rest of Day Two consisted of opening submissions from project opponents – basically explaining what they will be arguing in more detail later in the Hearing. We first heard from the Mornington Peninsula and Bass Coast Shire Councils that AGL and APA have failed to justify the Project and to properly assess its impacts on tourism, groundwater, birds, Merran’s Sun Orchid, noise and traffic. The two Councils also singled out the fact that greenhouse gases from the project would undermine not only national emissions targets but also local commitments to addressing the climate emergency. They also singled out the damage to amenity that would be done by visual and noise impacts, especially at Woolleys Beach.

Cardinia Shire Council flagged that they will address the project rationale, greenhouse gases and climate change in November, but today mainly indicated concerns about pipeline safety and impacts on land users, traffic safety and groundwater.

The Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation submission was a stark reminder of how due to being forced to proceed under COVID restrictions we could not even have a traditional welcome to Country. The BLCAC pointed out all the detail that the proponents have provided re different land uses – except regarding the traditional owners where the only relevant documents are the Cultural Heritage Management Plans that are still not finished. Even by the standards of other projects the BLCAC said this is poor.

Despite this we were generously welcomed remotely by Aunty Dyan Summers and Uncle Mik Edwards. Aunty Dyan told us:

‘It scares me that all of our stories are going to be lost if this project goes ahead and how that will affect me. I know I’m not the only Aboriginal woman that feels the same way. This land is not just stones and bones. Land is our being. We’ve learned to walk carefully over the land.’

Uncle Mik reinforced this:

‘It’s not just land to us, it’s our cathedral of spirituality and our library of history that goes back for aeons. We’re all connected through one red blood. We don’t own Mother Earth, she owns us all and will take us home one day. We’re all equal but I don’t feel it very often. I welcome you all to our custodianship of Mother Earth and hope this will be our chance to bring things into equal balance. We’re not well because we’re not balanced. Failure to listen to us exacerbates that.’

What has become known as ‘the Joint Submitter’ or ‘the Joint Environment Group’ – SW, EV and VNPA – then presented its opening submission, focusing for now mainly on why the IAC needs to consider whether the project is needed from within an interactive policy context. Part of the reason for doing this is to counter suggestions yesterday from the proponent that the IAC should just apply policy, not scrutinise it. We say that it’s too complex not to examine how much gas we really need and then consider, given all of the impacts of the project, whether this is really the best way to meet that need.

Finally, Save Westernport outlined how we are embedded in community and what Westernport Bay means to us. We talked about how hard it has been to engage with this process under COVID restrictions, but that the community is determined to oppose the project as strongly as we can, because AGL and APA will never have a social licence. Further in the Hearing we plan to raise issues that will not be dealt with via the Joint Environment Group and to complement the evidence presented from experts with our firsthand knowledge of the social impacts on us.

Our submissions are Doc 154 and Doc 155 under Tabled Documents at https://engage.vic.gov.au/crib-point-IAC