Wonthaggi protest highlights desalination issue for Melbourne

One person was arrested when protesters carrying two banners walked onto the Desalination Plant proposed site near Wonthaggi on May 9. The occasion was a rally at the gates of the proposed site organised by Watershed Victoria and Melbourne supporters.

Photos on Flickr | Action: Get Real on Climate Change | FoE

"Last chance to have your say – if you build it, we won't pay"

For over two years, anti-desal campaigners have organised rallies, meetings, film showings, debates and briefings, outlining the real costs of this project and putting forward the practical alternatives to an energy guzzling desalination plant on the Bass Coast. Despite the spiralling costs of the pilot plant itself, the scarcity of data, criticism of the project from experts inside and outside the government, as well as doubts about financing the project, the government continues to push ahead.

The Desalination Plant is beng designed to supply 150 Gigalitres per year for the Melbourne water supply and will be managed and operated through a public -private partnership (PPP) being extoled by the Brumby Labor Government. But many experts say deslaination should be the solution of last resort as it involves huge amount of (CO2 pollutng) power, and generates tonnes of solid waste and brine sludge which is pumped back out to sea where it can affect the coastal marine environment.

Alternative sources for water include recycled purified water from treatment plants (110 GL/y), stormwater capture (50 GL/y), rainwater tanks (25 GL/y), Flood Diversion (20 GL/y), and installation of dual flush cisterns (15 GL/y) all of which could be done for a fraction of the cost of a desalination plant.

The proposed Desal plant at Wonthaggi will cause 1.18 - 1.57 million tonnes of carbon emission equivalent to 365,000 extra cars on the road, discharge 8,800 litres of brine per second just 500 metres off the beautiful Bass coast, suck in and kill 380,000 small organisms per second into the plant. Operation of the plant will be for profit by a multinational infrastructure company, most likely Veolia who already run the Melbourne train system as Connex. The cost (and profits) of the plant will be passed on to consumers through increases in water rates. The people of Melbourne will pay!

In March Federal Evironment minister Peter Garrett gave conditional approval of the desalination plant in Victoria. Cam Walker from Fiends of the Earth criticised the ministerial decision saying "we believe that his assessment is flawed because it is based on information provided by the project's proponent rather than independent studies," he said. He also raised that the decision does not relate to or consider the full impacts on species that are not federally listed. "In particular there are serious concerns about the impacts on marine life posed by the plant, including to whale populations, which are not addressed in the Minister’s decision. Cam Walker said in a news release: Garrett fails Victoria on desalination plant approval.

The coastal zone and beaches nearby are a popular fishing spot that will be effectvely ruined. The effluent pipe for the concentrated brine will only take the sludge 500 metres out to sea to destroy the ecology of the rocky reef environment, when it should be extended 2 to 3 kilometres out to sea where the brine can be adequately dispersed by the currents in Bass Strait.

The Bunurong Land Council is concerned over the destraction of aboriginal cultural sites. Steve Compton, Cultural Officer with the Bunurong Land Council told the rally "Some of those sites on the property are the largest sites in the Bass Coast region ... So basically the Bunurong community have asked me to say to you guys that they're dead against the Desal. There is better options for getting water like putting rainwater tanks in Melbourne. Basically bugger off and leave the coast alone and stop trying to dish out big loads of money to foreign multinationals." (Youtube Video Report: Bunurong people Oppose Desalination Plant)

Gareth Barlow, a councillor from Bass Coast Shire Council spoke about the council's long standing opposition to the development. Bass Coast State MP for the Liberal Party spoke of his opposition to the plant, while acknowledging that the Liberals had proposed a smaller State owned Desalination plant at the last election which he had supported.

Anton from the Clean Ocean Foundation highlighted the amount of water wasted in Melbourne from the Eastern Treatment Plant and Gunnamatta outfall and from stormwater runoff. (Youtube Video Report: Desal plant for Melbourne what a Waste)

Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth came down from Melbourne and spoke about the growing disquiet in the Melbourne suburbs on the Desalination Plant being pushed by the Brumby Labor Government, and the need for more grassroots activism on water issues in Melbourne.

There were also speakers who outlined the reasons for opposition to the Desalination Plant for Melbourne and its sitng near Wonthaggi. (Youtube Video Report: Why you should oppose a Desalination plant for Melbourne)

A speaker also covered the prospects and background of Infrastructure company Veolia who looks likely to be the only private contender for managing the plant under a public-private partnership. Veolia's record in water management (they are also known as Vivendi) leaves much to be desired with community protests and outrage for their water management and pricing practices. (Youtube Video Report: Veolia set to run the Wonthaggi Desalination Plant supplying water to Melbourne)

Just as the speakers were finishing two groups of people entered the exclusion zone of the pilot plant near the dunes to display banners. (Youtube Video report - Protestors enter Desal plant exclusion zone) One person was arrested in the walkon, and was escorted back to the rally where he was released after showing the police identification. The banners said "Fuck off Brumby" and "Desal Costs the Earth".

Songs were sun to popular tunes at the rally Opposing the Desalination plant near Wonthaggi. (Youtube Video Report: Desal Song: We don't want to swim in your chemicals)

Lots of police were brought from around the region to "protect" the pilot plant, as well as the presence of private security company employees, but in contrast to Melbourne protests the police were pretty friendly. I guess they are part of the local community and probably know many of the people opposed to the plant. Indeed, some of the police probably also disagree with the plant being built.



It's good to see MIM back.

A quick list of the Victorian ALPs environmental credentials:

Steals water from Murray Darling to allow continued profligate use of water in Melbourne and to allow population to grow by 1 million in next 20 (or less) years.

Despite Melbourne Water ripping more than $100 million profit per year from Victorian's pockets for at least twenty years, the ALP has allowed it to pump 1,000,000,000 litres of semi-treated sewage and industrial waste into the Port Phillip Bay and Bass Strait EVERY DAY over that period.

Allows industry to use a large percentage of our potable water supply without any realistic attempt to improve industry's water efficiency and, without any attempt to prevent industry from contaminating our sewerage system with toxic waste.

Builds De-Sal plant that will use vast amounts of electricty from La Trobe Valley's power stations that are fueled by dirty brown coal mines. Contracts will ensure that owners of the plant will force Victorians to pay exorbitant amounts for electricity for generations to come. Makes no attempt to keep any of the profit from this white elephant in Australia. Allows another industrial process to degrade Bass Strait.

Proposes new brown coal power station.

Continued logging of old growth forest and woodchip driven logging of native forests in general.

Removes rights of local communities to participate in planning decisions and plans industrial and housing developments in green wedges. And that's only a quick list! For those who remember the Cain era there will be a sense of deja vu. The political party captured for and by bland and talentless lawyers is in the thrall of the big end of town again. Like last time, one morning they will wake up out of office, with their pants around their ankles and no memory of what happened. The ALPs new corporate BFF will have swiped the public's credit card and shot through with our money to somewhere popular with the White Shoe Brigade.

If I ever put Labor above second last on any ballot paper ever again, I demand you take me out and shoot me as I'm either rabid or I've gone mad.

Who voted Brumby in as Premier anyway? This creepy little megalomaniac has been crawling around for years trying to get a crack at power. The public turned him down but Bracks' cowardice allowed the worm to turn.

Water crisis: Is desalination the answer?
By Kylie McGregor, Socialist Party

The Victorian government’s plan to build one of the biggest desalination plants in the world, in South Gippsland, appears at face value a solution to Victoria’s water crisis. Although it’s despite Labor’s election mandate of 2006 to outright reject the desalination plant.

Labor now claims the environmental impact will be carefully managed, but the desalination plant will be controlled by a multinational company through a Public Private Partnership. Profit will be the main motive and costs including those of any carbon credits to be paid will be passed on to households. It is estimated that water bills in Victoria are set to increase 60 per cent by 2012!

The desalination process is very wasteful, inefficient, and expensive. As Friends of the Earth (FOE) highlights the massive continuous energy requirement of the plant will produce around one million tons of CO2 per year. Ironically, global warming is thought to be a prime cause of dwindling water supplies, which includes reducing rainfall!

Not only is desalination wasteful but it pollutes the ocean. High volumes of dry waste such as chemicals will be disposed of in landfill, while other waste will be discharged back into the sea. Considering the costs and devastating environmental damage caused by desalination, it really must be considered only as a last resort.

Why have all other options including water conservation not been pursued? While working people are being asked to have shorter showers and to pay higher prices for water, big business is not being forced to implement water saving measures.

It is agribusiness that has contributed to the water shortage in the first place. Agriculture accounts for much greater water usage than households and all other sectors combined. In Victoria, only 8 per cent of water use is domestic whereas agriculture is responsible for 66 per cent. Experts have shown that the water shortage could be solved through conservation: embracing new technologies in water irrigation, using recycled water for industry and irrigation, shifting away from high water crops such as rice and pasture, and by stopping logging in Melbourne’s Thomson and Yarra catchments.

Water conservation could also create new, sustainable and ongoing jobs. This would include the installation of rainwater tanks, and through conservation in industry and public buildings such as upgrading technologies in things like cooling systems.

Unfortunately the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union (CFMEU) support the project on the basis that it will create construction jobs. With unemployment expected to rise to 8 percent within the next year, there is no doubt that job creation is desperately needed, but any unions writing blank cheques to such projects also need to consider the environmental and social impact, and working conditions. It is worth noting that John Holland is a key player in one of the bids for the desalination plant, an employer notorious for ignoring the health and safety of its workers.

It is crucial that unions take a leading role in fighting for sustainable jobs. As the Socialist Party has argued many times, creating jobs and protecting the environment are not incompatible. The issue of the water crisis is no different. In fact many more jobs could be created in sustainable projects like solar and extending public transport for instance. Most people are concerned about both jobs and the environment. There is no division between the two: unemployment, low pay and the destruction of the environment are all caused by the same profit driven system.


Valid points guys!! Well said.

But let's not forget the indigenous cultural heritage aspect. All that lovely cultural heritage legislation, mandatory cultural heritage draft plans.. pfftt ALL FOR SHOW.. Codswallop.. CRAP.

Let me clarify what I mean. Any project of the Wonthaggi desal's scale requires the production of a Cultural Heritage Draft Plan to comply with legislation. This report entails surveying by archaeologists, and indigenous cultural heritage monitors. Depending on how significant the finds are, the local Registered Aboriginal Party (RAP) can reject the produced Plan, and, if not cease production, at the very least stall it.

Well surprise, surprise, there is no RAP in the Wonthaggi area.. Aside from DSE's patronising 'invitation' of Bunurong and Boonwurrung monitors to be present on site to be the token blackfellas, and helplessly observe what will be destroyed, it might as well be terra nullius regarding the local mob. Am I being paranoid? You tell me..

* Despite a 90 day processing period for registration applications, TWO YEARS later, both Boonwurrung and Bunurong are STILL waiting to be processed. There are allowances in that legislation for dual RAPs to be instated... So WHY is it taking this long? I WONDER!!

* My partner is an indigenous cultural heritage monitor that has worked on the site. He has seen the purposeful failure to chose pit locations that would be likely to provide the highest yield of artefacts.

* Despite that the Cultural Heritage draft plan (Nov 08) stated that there are about 13 identified Aboriginal sites, as of the other week, Dpt of Aboriginal Affairs ceased surveying on the site. They're useless, and do what they're told. These are the people looking after indigenous interests. Consistent with our history.

* On the last 2 days surveying was allowed, my partner WITNESSED 500-600 ARTEFACTS taken out of ONE pit approx 2m x 2m.. Oh well, too bad, Bunurong people.. We killed most of you off, and now a significant area rich in your heritage will now be raped.. But at least we have this nice cultural heritage legislation that makes us feel good, shows we give a damn, and you can all quit your whining because we obviously are thinking about your feelings. Blah blah. Genocide continues.

We still got Environment Concerns down here in Wonthaggi, Wind and Rain this project is way over buget

very nice

It was the climate change conspirators that said we would get hotter and dryer summers. So the Government listened to the climate change conspirators and built the plant, now that we have had the wettest and coldest summer we all know it was a waist of money. It was all the climate change conspirators speaking crap that made the Government build the white elephant you got yourselves to blame for this one.

My water usage was $21 for 3 months the other charges which I do not wan't $86 bought the bill up to $236 which doubled my they are writing there own chegues it is so wrong I do not work just valinter

at st vincent depaul we should all together stop paying our bill