THE Andrews Labor Government can settle into the parliamentary winter recess well pleased with its efforts: the AGL/APA gas import terminal at Crib Point battle is done and dusted; and its answer to a question about a Western Port Strategic Management Plan (WPSMP) now closes the matter … or does it?
In the Legislative Council on February 18 this year, Clifford Hayes of the Sustainable Australia Party, asked Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to initiate a strategic management plan for Western Port. (See Some have heard the call, Bass Coast Post, March 25, 2021.)
WESTERN PORT BAY
Western Port Bay and its surrounding catchment are an important environmental, social and economic region for Victorians and national and international visitors to the state. Western Port was designated as a Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s Biosphere Program in 2003 in recognition of its international importance.
The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Environment Protection Authority, Melbourne Water and the Port Phillip and Westernport Catchment Management Authority are working together under the State Environment Protection Policy (Waters) 2018 to protect and manage the bay’s environmental values.
The Healthy Waterways Strategy 2018–28 and Co-designed Catchment Program for the Westernport and Mornington Peninsula Region are currently the principal planning documents to ensure the environmental health of the bay is maintained. The Western Port Ramsar Site Management Plan and management plans for the bay’s three marine national parks further protect marine life and internationally important shorebirds.
All future management planning arrangements for Victoria’s marine and coastal environment are now directed by the Marine and Coastal Act 2018.
Mr Hayes has since tabled a follow-up question: “Will the Minister consider a strategic management plan for Westernport, similar to the Port Phillip Environmental Management Plan 2017-2027?”
It will be interesting to read the Minister’s reply, for there will be a time prior to the next State election when all candidates in this region will be asked to present their vision for Western Port’s future, and what role a WPSMP will play in helping them achieve their goal.
If any sitting members or aspiring MPs are looking for guidance on this matter, they should read Jeff Nottle’s article Hands off our bay (Bass Coast Post, April 8, 2021). He comments on the Government’s decision to reject the AGL proposal and says while Minister Wynne’s decision “is entirely appropriate”, he alerts us to other factors the Government ignored in reaching its AGL decision.
“Surprisingly”, says Jeff, “the Minister’s report also dismissed concerns raised by many about the adverse impact on tourism, and stated impacts from operational noise and vibration, light spill, landscape and visual impacts, safety, hazards and risks. Impacts on connection to the natural environment, recreational fishing, boating, kayaking, swimming, walking and other social activities were either acceptable or could be managed by ‘environmental performance requirements’.”
In his closing paragraphs, Jeff sets some ground rules for further negotiation about Western Port’s future and says, “Whilst the community reflects on what could have happened, PICS and the alliance will now switch focus to seeking more permanent protections for Western Port. As a minimum this will include seeking a single and dedicated strategic or management plan.”
As part of this ‘Western Port alliance’, Julia Stockigt for the Save Westernport group says, “Now that we’ve had this great decision to block AGL’s plans, the work can really begin on ensuring Western Port has the kind of protections it needs and deserves, so this community is not forced to drop everything to fight inappropriate industrial proposals every few years.”
Unfortunately, Julia’s wish has been short-lived.
This was evident with the gathering of at least 130 people at the Corinella Hall, on Saturday May 22.
The public meeting with its theme Save Western Port Woodlands not only brought together a cross-section of people affected by the ongoing sand mining operations in the Grantville area but also representatives of the groups that had taken up the fight over the last seven years or so to stop a proposed container port at Hastings and the AGL/APA gas import proposal.
It would seem history is set to repeat itself, for the people must once more go into battle to “preserve the last significant stand of coastal forest in the Western Port region”.
With this in mind, surely now is time for the Government and those seeking government to work with the community and devise an all-encompassing land and sea management plan – a plan that will not consign Western Port and its hinterland to a “photographic memory stick” of what it was once like.