The context of Watershed Victoria and the rebellion against the 2007 State Water Plan
Dominic Gilligan, Inaugural Treasurer. Oct & Nov 2008.
Water and sustainability have been increasingly dominant topics across Australia. The Victorian State government had been supporting a policy of localized self-sufficiency up to 2007, but something changed radically when on June 19th 2007, the Victorian State Government announced (with an expensive media campaign) they would force on Victorians a network of mega-projects aimed at delocalising mains water supplies and becoming “rainfall independent” - they included the building a fossil-fuel & chemical dependent seawater factory at Dalyston/Wonthaggi, the diversion of water away from the Murray into Melbourne (the North-South pipe) and the creation of an inter-city mega grid for trading the supply of town water across the populated parts of Victoria.
These three alarming major policy-level decisions were made by the State Government, breaking at least two ALP policy platforms upon which the ALP was elected in 2001.
They sought the creation of one of the world’s largest, highest electricity consuming, chemical-dependent, seawater desalination factories, with ocean outfall pipes pumping huge waste streams daily into a high-conservation marine/coastal zone - the South Gippsland Coast. No siting options were laid out as is usual, an unusual practice for major projects. It was looking like the Nowingi toxic waste-dump saga would repeat itself in another location.
They sought the creation of a diversion of water out of the Murray Darling Basin, and into Melbourne’s water supply (and into Melbourne’s toilets and sewer to be flushed into the Bay !)
They sought the creation of a mega-grid of mega-pipes that shift water around the Central area of Victoria <1
This ALP Government’s approach created the illusion that city people could use water as if climate change did not exist …
The clear message of the design of the nework plan and the political subtext of the Water Plan was, “Use as much water as you like - forget Climate Change, forget the precautionary principle, ignore basic ecological design principles, forget waste minimization (Desal factories produce huge toxic waste volumes) and please forget our 2001 election policies on water“.
But we could not forget. John.
Negotiations were all done behind closed doors with vested interests - large overseas private water infrastructure corporations, local and overseas merchant banks and a handful of colluding Northern Victoria farmers with riverwater irrigation liscences.
Amazingly, State Government Cabinet (Ministers) were unaware of what was going on until it was all decided. Key ALP election platforms and promises were about to be broken. Trust was in short supply.
John Brumby & Tim Holding took over - Bracks & Thwaites stepped down - the scene was set.
All hell broke loose.
A Fraud Unfolds
The Water Plan was so poorly assembled that to defend it the DSE and their Ministers as well as Premier Brumby, have had to repeated use false rainfall figures, public relations companies (spin doctors) and an army of lawyers to keep their proposals alive. Watershed’s own science writer Neil Rankine exposed the fraud in his peer reviewed report. < 2 . The State Ombudsman also exposed the dodgy costings of the entire central region water plan.
This announced mega-projects were widely condemned in 2007 on ecological, economic and social bases, and this condemnation has grown every month leading to 2009.
The work on desalination mega-factory started with forced evictions of farmers in 2007 and 2008. No Environmental Effects Statement was done for the ‘pilot facility’ which is now struggling with a range of geological, safety, machinery and staffing issues.
Robbing Peter To Pay Paul
The ocean and land near Dalyston selected for desecration is loved and depended on by full time residents (many farmers), part-time residents mainly from Melbourne, thousands of holiday makers, lovers of Marine National Parks, whale watchers, fossil hunters and many others. It’s heritage. It’s community. It’s homeland without dirty industries. So these people joined together to they form Your Water Your Say (YWYS) - an Association based in Bass Coast Shire with a chapter based in Melbourne, making use of the the same name as the website that emerged as a real voice for people who were otherwise ignored. Other community groups in Victoria formed to highlight the profound suite of problems that the government’s plan was to create in the blind pursuit of getting water to Victorian cities.
YWYS and many elected individuals from all sides of politics (except the ALP) took on the task of exposing the broken election promises and the absence of logic - How did the Brumby people dismiss full water recycling at Carrum & Werribee - well known for their climate-friendliness, tax-payer affordability and minimal disruption locations when compared to mega-desalination factories? Even the CEO of the Desalination project publicly stated that he did not understand why a huge desaliantion facility was chosen prior to all the well-known low-pollution, climate friendly, lower cost solutions. We all knew that purifying Werribbe and Carrum wastewater will solve the two biggest and most embarrassing ocean outfall problems as well as keeping water away from the high risk, casino-like stakes of water commodity markets. The Brumby brigade ignored their own departments recommendations to do full recycling of water at Carrum and Werribee for reasons we are still trying to find out - reasons all Victorians and the Federal government still need to know.
Failure to Silence Dissent
The history that followed, the struggles and silencing of YWYS - as well as the silencing of State Government employees, the Philip Island Nature Park, plus the various attempts at silencing other community based not-for-profit associations and individuals - is an important justice story that remains to be told in full.
In early October 2008, a new association that showed the refusal to be silenced - Watershed Victoria - formed to pick up the baton of YWYS and reach further and deeper to create a watershed in policy and practice in Governments, and reveal the truth on water security; away from destruction and firmly towards the solutions that make real sense.
As 2009 approaches, we see the DSE water plan under the Brumby-Holding autocracy, universally condemned - condemned by local communities, most water experts, sustainability scientists, water commentators (nearly all of them) educators, as well as every political party - well almost <3
We see how government’s proposal was always in clear violation of all carefully established coastal planning agreements. We see illegal and damaging activities done by contractors forced to rush by the government, including dumping of Asbestos contaminated soil and installation of electrical power lines on public land when everyone else wanting access to basic power has to use their own (private) land. This is the double-standard that Victorians now view as standard part of the Brumby approach to projects.
Real water solutions
Sustainable water supply solutions were well known to all Governments since at least 2003, three years before there was a ‘change of government’ in Victoria in 2006 - from the Bracks/Thwaites leadership to Brumby/Holding autocracy. With this shift in ALP factional power came a shift away from climate-friendly, community-friendly solutions towards mega-projects - where the decrees of the Brumby cartel had thrown sustainability and sense out the window. Why they did this will likely be the subject of an inquiry into State corruption, but wont help the miliions of Victorians about to be lumbered with the very high costs of expensive, privatized water .
So, in 2006 real water solutions became the domain of community organisations like Watershed Victoria.
Real water solutions were initially put forward by YWYS then Watershed Vic, and now the wide-reaching group called Victorian Water Forum (which includes Watershed Vic).
<1. This mega-grid is the key prerequisite that corporations stated was needed to make Victoria’s public water systems (and perhaps others) an attractive and profitable investment. Mega-grids appear as the downfall of various civilizations and are loaded with irreconcilable issues. More on this in the Education section of this website which rolls out in November/December 2008.
<2. At least two other University reports from June 2008 shoe that mega-desalination at Wonthaggi (or anywhere in Victoria) is not needed.
<3. The State ALP has gagged ALP representatives plus the Wonthaggi Desalination Project Co-ordinator - Gary Seabourn - from speaking up on the broken ALP promises and the superiority of recycling over seawater desalination.