Port Philip Council President’s Report to 2007 Annual General Meeting

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In my report to the
2006 AGM I highlighted a letter PPCC received from the then Deputy Premier, the Hon. John Thwaites. Mr. Thwaites advised that the State Government had launched its “Our Environment Our Future – Sustainability Action Statement 2006”. That document contains 150 initiatives across five key areas of action, which are:

  • Responding to the challenge of climate change
  • Maintaining and restoring our natural assets
  • Using our resources more efficiently
  • Reducing our everyday environmental impacts … and
  • Government leading by example.

Sadly however the last twelve months has not provided us with much evidence that these laudable commitments have made it off the paper they are written on.

A review of PPCC’s activities over the last year, and even a brief glance at the regularly reported areas of conflict and concern between bayside residents, conservationists and government suggest that these principles have been abandoned in favour of the noisy and unabated demands for our natural resources from a range of entities; including even government itself.

2007 Campaign activities

During the year we have been involved in a number of issues, most notably:

Ansett Estate: For a number of years PPCC has identified the Ansett Estate as a unique coastal property, and perhaps PPCC might take some credit for kicking off a remarkable local campaign which some PPCC delegates are active members of.

In 2005 PPCC wrote to the Premier requesting that the State acquire the Ansett property to return the privately-owned coastal land to public ownership, thus creating at last a continuous coastal reserve between Melbourne and Portsea. Subsequent negotiations also started with Trust for Nature, before the local group stepped in to steer a campaign to save Green Wedge land from development – something that just should not need to be fought if government adhered to its own documented principles. Their campaign is still underway and we may hear more of that from Mt Eliza delegates here tonight.

Seaford Lifesaving Club: The proposal was for rebuilding and expansion of the club, development of a 20 seat café, and expansion of the foreshore car park. PPCC was active in the campaign to oppose the redevelopment of the club, and early in 2007 Geoffrey Goode and Barry Ross attended the VCAT hearing to assist the local campaigners. Unfortunately VCAT found in favour of the developer – the Frankston City Council, and the building is now underway. The redevelopment required DSE approval in order to encroach further into the
reserve, and that approval was given. Again government abandoned its principles in order to maintain the status quo.

Aerial photography

Geoff Goode again piloted a flight around the entire coastline of the Bay, with Rudi Kuiter taking photographs. Geoff has now organized this on eight occasions over the last 10 years. The photographs have proved invaluable in our local campaigning, often identifying illegal or inappropriate activities
or structures that would otherwise have gone unnoticed, and documenting some alarming incremental changes over the years. The photos also add a leading edge to our Web site, and provide some income from sales to the public. Many thanks to Geoff and Alison and Rudi Kuiter.

Committee issues

During the year, Stephen Calvert-Smith resigned from the Committee due to his mother’s ill health. Secretary Jenny Warfe has also had health issues and been unable to attend a number of meetings, but is now recovering well.

Regrettably Geoffrey Goode has not nominated for a position on your Committee. Geoffrey’s decision calls from some special remarks. Geoff was a foundation member of PPCC in 1970 and I understand has been on the Committee, holding various positions for most of the past 37 years. His methodical approach to analysing various issues that would have destroyed natural values of the Bay has ensured a rebuff for many of the proposers. Geoff has been responsible for an impressive list of victories for the PPCC and the Bay for more than 45 years. Geoff also has a very good knowledge of the law as it affects these issues, so a man of that calibre will be sorely missed. No other member of PPCC has made such a long and impressive contribution and on behalf of the PPCC membership I sincerely thank Geoff for such excellent service. Geoff has agreed to remain as Web master and Public Officer, and I hope may one day stand again for the Committee.

Now to a broad sweep of issues pertinent to Government’s 2006 “Our Environment Our Future – Sustainability Action Statement

On 1st November 2007 the Victorian Government gave its provisional approval for the deepening of the shipping channels in Port Phillip Bay and the Yarra River.

This approval is clearly in conflict with the five key “sustainability action” areas proclaimed as recently as 2006! The Premier has even indicated that the State will make a financial contribution towards the project.

The SEES Inquiry Panel Hearings were held over 18 days during June and July at Planning Panels Victoria– compared with the 45 days required for the first EES. Once again the Blue Wedges Coalition put in a multifaceted submission, supported by several member groups of PPCC. Towards the close of the hearings BWC also prepared two papers. One dealing with the newly emerged issue of ongoing scouring and rock damage at The Rip caused by the 2005 Trial Dredging, and another outlining serious toxicity issues which had not been properly put to the
Panel. These papers were accepted by the Panel, and put to the Port of Melbourne Corporation, but the PoMC has not responded.

Nevertheless the recently released Panel Report generally accepts what the PoMC experts put to the Panel. As Sue Pennicuik MLC said in her media release of 1st November 2007, “It is difficult for anyone to comprehend the stupidity of this project”. I put it to you that the Panel members fit into that category.

BWC is now taking the matter to the Federal Court as the Federal Government must give its final approval for the project. Earlier this year PPCC made a donation of $1000 to BWC, which will assist the continuing campaign.

Mt Martha North beach

After winter storms in 2000 many boat sheds and the cliff face collapsed. At the time, DSE recommended that the sheds should not be rebuilt due to “changed beach conditions”. At the time PPCC was involved in the campaign to preserve the coast from further assault. After a noisy and nasty campaign run by the MP Bathing Box Owners Association, the then Minister, Sheryl Garbutt, ignored her Department’s advice and gave approval for the re-building of approximately 30 sheds.

Storms this year have again caused extensive damage to the cliff face. The crumbling cliffs have claimed footpaths, wooden steps, and aboriginal middens. The sea regularly flows under the 30 sheds and the beach is regularly scoured of sand. This type of damage can be expected to increase if channel deepening goes ahead.

Point Nepean Community Trust Quarantine station

During October a Masterplan Concept was put on public display. The proposal has many objectionable features which are incompatible with various PPCC policies, and with its National Park status: three restaurants, family
respite centre, reinstatement of a jetty, education centre, relocated horse stables, aquarium, potential wetland construction using recycled water, sports pavilion, Jarman oval multipurpose sports centre for polo ponies etc. and a tidal generator. During an open day in October there was
significant community opposition to the proposals as displayed.

Business and Tourism makes its moves
on the Bay

Under the new leadership of ex Tourism Victoria CEO Wayne Kayler-Thompson, the Business group, Victorian Employers Chamber of
Commerce and Industry, recently unveiled its “Give our Bays a Go” plan.

The Age of 15th November 2007 reports that, at a summit of business and political leaders at Parliament House that day, the VECCI blueprint for a “one-stop shop” government authority was unveiled. The one-stop shop would make it easier for developers and entrepreneurs to obtain planning approval for Bay related projects.

Mr Thompson, now CEO of VECCI, advises that “Melbourne’s Bays are undervalued, poorly resourced and characterised by missed opportunities to meet
government policy and community needs, with the lack of a cohesive visions and investment strategy, a complex web of planning, management and
regulatory bodies governing the region and the absence of a streamlined governance model for the planning and delivery of major initiatives”

It is interesting that VECCI has assessed our Bays as undervalued – the very claim that conservationists have been making for decades – and also
interesting that VECCI is one of the major champions of the Channel Deepening Project, which will seriously devalue the Bay, and make it less attractive to the multitudes of tourists they hope to attract to its shores. Clearly we disagree on the definition of “Value”

VECCI is also promoting the concept of “super yacht marinas” to help attract high roller international tourists to Melbourne. The photo accompanying The Age article gives a taste of VECCI’s preferred reforms for our coast – a new boardwalk on St Kilda foreshore showing a straight line of Canary Island palms, hard paved to the base of the trunks with the ugly St Kilda pier in the backgournd.

A not dissimilar example of the tone of development likely to be achieved if left to the wisdom of the corporate sector is the Safety Beach Marina – another proposal which PPCC members spent considerable time and resources over a number of years in providing the alternative view for.

Sadly, the outcome typifies the worst excesses of coastal development. The Marine Drive scenic road has been tunnelled under the bed of Tassell’s Creek to give unimpeded access to the marina by masted boats.  The tunnel has been painted a puce colour, imitating a disembowelled whale. A row of curved metal poles along either side of the waterway above supposedly represent the ribs of a whale.

Property owners have wanted the ribs removed because of a loss of sea views. Using a consultant’s report, Council has recently costed lowering the ribs at $200,000. The option of removing the ribs, as demanded by the community, was not considered. That’s the sort of treatment we will get from the “Give our Bays a Go” strategy.

In summary

All in all it has been a big and rather disappointing year for conservationists around the Bay. It seems the business sector’s “Give the Bays a Go” mentality is winning over Government’s “Our Environment Our Future – Sustainability Action Statement 2006” key actions.

We are privileged however to be the conservationists who have ensured our own small sections of the coast are well cared for – by people like us who do understand the big picture: such as global warming and population pressures. At last in Sunday Age of 18th November 2007, Page 5, a report outlined the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s now urgent call to stem the growth in the world’s population from its present unsustainable trajectory.

We can take heart that the demands being made by developers and the corporate sector are becoming more shrill, more unpalatable to the broader community, and are ultimately unsustainable in the context of what will be a very different future for this continent.

For the most part our local battles have at least modified the grossest excesses of the developers, and our much loved sections of coast at least still exist. The challenge is to ensure that they remain so, in the face of some fairly strident, but unsustainable demands on our coast.

We may also take heart at the beginnings of some awareness of the importance of our natural world at the national and international level, but we need to maintain our vigilance at a local level.

Thank you all for playing your part in that.

Len Warfe,