THE Phillip Island Conservation Society knew a container port and industrialisation of Western Port would change our region forever.
In March 2014, after the Napthine State Government announced Hastings as the preferred site of Victoria’s second port, the society called a public meeting and a dedicated group of volunteers emerged as a subcommittee: Preserve Western Port (PWP). We knew the battle to conserve Western Port was Victoria’s equivalent of Tasmania’s Gordon-below-Franklin-Dam battle and Queensland’s efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef.
With limited resources ($35 from the public meeting), the committee developed short-, medium- and long-term strategies to seek funding, educate, inform and advocate against the Hastings Container Port policy. Drawing on the skills of our committee, we developed strategic partnerships and initiated research in a professional manner. Numerous public forums engaged hundreds of people, including logisticians, politicians, media, fishermen, tourists, conservationists, legal advisers, councillors, scientists and our community.
PWP’s research papers, media presence, website and excellent social media presence drew the attention of locals, Spring Street politicians, local community members, councillors and key government advisers.
In 2015, after the new Labor State Government asked Infrastructure Victoria to adjudicate on siting of the state’s new container port, PWP focused on port research and discussion and technical papers. In April this year we prepared a second and vital submission to Infrastructure Victoria that was endorsed by Destination Phillip Island Regional Tourist Board, Phillip Island Tourist and Business Association, Phillip Island Conservation Society, Bass Coast Shire Council, Cr Pam Rothfield, Cr Michael Whelan, Cr Clare Le Serve and Cr Geoff Ellis. Phillip Island Nature Parks built on the PWP submission and research and also lodged a submission.
Infrastructure Victoria has now formally rejected the Port of Hastings option on the grounds of lack of rail connections and the environmental risk of ramping up shipping traffic in the ecologically sensitive Western Port and recommended that Hastings should retain a small role among Victoria’s ports.
The State Government now needs to formally support these recommendations. The State Opposition also needs to indicate whether it will stop attempting to industrialise Western Port and accept the independent umpire’s decision.
The three-year campaign has seen dedicated volunteers informing the community and taking direct actions even with some resistance from conservatives, vested interests and others who believe the campaign battle would have limited, if any, effect.
In the words of Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
The action group committee of Phillip Island and waterline communities has included Anne Davie, Kevin Chambers, Carmen Bush, Lisa Schonberg, Jo Johnson, Kate Whittaker, Margaret Hancock, Pauline Taylor, Leigh Phillips, Walter Broussard, Ross Lloyd, Graeme and Tina Hanigan, John Adam, Jane Westworth, Sue Saliba and Virginia Hamilton.
Jeff Nottle is president of Preserve Western Port.