THROUGH my articles I have attempted to encourage Victorian MPs to pick up the theme that Western Port belongs to all Victorians, and there is a need to care for Country by embracing the holistic approach so well understood by the First Nations people.
However given our European ways of dividing the natural environment into areas determined by “boxes”, we ignore the Aboriginal people’s understanding that sea, land and waterways are interdependent and know no boundaries.
The first box is the Bass Coast Distinctive Areas and Landscapes (DAL) project. As things stand, it ends at the border between the Bass Coast Shire and Cardinia Shire. I find this perplexing, considering that the DAL principle is built on four broad interrelated objectives that, to me, apply equally to the other shires bordering Western Port.
These objectives are:
- “recognise the importance of distinctive areas and landscapes to the people of Victoria and to protect and conserve their unique features and special characteristics;
- enhance the conservation of the environment in declared areas including unique habitats, ecosystems and biodiversity;
- enable the integration of policy development, implementation and decision-making through Statements of Planning Policy; and
- recognise the connection and stewardship of Traditional Owners.”
The second box is the Marine and Coastal Policy, March 2020. While it looks to protect the Victorian marine and coastal environment, it abruptly stops five kilometres inland from the median high-water mark, thus ignoring what happens on the other side of the boundary. In so doing, it snubs the wider catchment area and all that it encompasses. Differentiating between cows grazing or sand mining either side of the arbitrary border at Grantville does not take into account the need to recognise and treat the area as part of a regional ecosystem. Be it the extremities of the catchment area or the waters of Western Port and its Ramsar site, it is an interconnected environment and the current anomaly should be addressed.
Picking up on the sand mining process and the fact that it is carving up the Western Port Woodlands is puzzling, for one would think that mining inside the five kilometre boundary would not be sanctioned under the Marine and Coastal Policy. But it is, for there is another “box” to contend with: the Minister’s prerogative to make the call.
In this case, the call enabled the government to expand the mining lease, thus destroying the very thing the coastal policy should protect. It would seem that from the government’s perspective the Western Port Woodlands and its surrounding agriculture land and natural habitat are not as important as paving the streets of Melbourne with concrete and ignoring the inherent rights of nature.
On the other hand, Phillip Island benefits from the coastal strategy for it is just on ten kilometres at its widest point, thus ensuring its holistic integrity is maintained. One cannot imagine it ever suffering the indignity of extracting the resources it may be hiding or destroying its flora and fauna – it would seem it is in no danger of ecocide.
The same cannot be said, however, for the rest of the Western Port region, and I fear if we do not develop a plan underpinned by statutory law that takes into account the whole catchment area including Western Port itself, the “box mentality” will win the day and give successive governments and developers carte blanche. When it comes time to make a decision about the Lang Lang Proving Ground, it should make for a very interesting test case for much of it lies within the five kilometre boundary.
It would be in the interest of all to marry the Indigenous and Non-indigenous approaches to the issues I’ve touched on. Starting with the premise that there is no “environment box”, let’s work as one to develop a shared vision and future for Victoria’s “Western Port Country”. There’s no doubt it is a distinctive area and landscape and as Barbara Oates said in her comment to my article Hello earthlings, “A plan is needed to sustain, support and improve all things Western Port. It is important to look beyond today.”
In my search for nirvana, it’s been hard to find a sitting MP who can “look beyond today” when it comes to Western Port. Voting in the upcoming state election will be challenging, but if you come across a candidate who can present a vision based on an ecologically sustainable future for the region, why not give them a go, for your vote may make all the difference. Waiting another four years in the hope that biodiversity will survive as you would like it may be too late.
So I say adieu for now and thank all who have taken part in the journey of trying to lead our politicians to the Promised Land. I hope it has been helpful.