Comment: Global market is big influence on local gas policy



Rising unemployment and declining manufacturing will collide with farmer-driven campaign against unconventional gas, but international markets will play the role of umpire.


The Victorian Liberal National Coalition has announced it will support an “extension of Victoria’s (current) onshore gas moratorium until 30 June 2020”.

It should be noted that the next Victorian state election is scheduled for November 2018, resulting in the policy’s effective length being 19 months (if the Coalition was returned to power).

Victoria has a moratorium on most aspects of onshore gas exploration and development, which was originally put in place by the previous Coalition Government and later expanded.

The current moratorium is so broad that it has even halted gas exploration projects that are unlikely to use hydraulic fracturing, such as Otway Basin works proposed by Lakes Oil.

Global oil prices are less than half of what they were 18 months ago, which has placed huge pressure on the US shale oil industry following its fracking-powered boom times.

Many shale projects were given the green light with an expectation that investors would be paid back from oil prices of between $USD80 to $60 per barrel.

Oil prices have spent most of this year between $USD40 and $50 per barrel.


West Texas crude oil price index - 18 months to September 30, 2015. Source:
West Texas crude oil price index – 18 months to September 30, 2015. Source:

Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) prices were a little slower to follow oil prices but their recent fall has been considerable.

Japanese market regulators even skipped the monthly issue of LNG spot prices in June this year due to “a lack of trades”, a move that was widely interpreted as a sign of “tepid” demand.

US domestic and Japanese prices for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and crude oil imports to August 2015. Source: US Energy Information Administration.
US domestic and Japanese prices for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) and crude oil imports to August 2015. Source: US Energy Information Administration.

The impact of low fossil fuel prices has been felt locally as well, with Adelaide-based oil and gas exploration company Beach Energy cutting $55 million from its capital expenditure budget in January this year.

Beach Energy was also hit by the departure of US energy giant Chevron, which had been a partner for Beach’s joint shale venture in remote South Australia.

The collapse of prices has become its own market-enforced moratorium on new unconventional gas projects, though recent sharp falls in the Australian dollar may help the fledgeling industry.

Meanwhile, an 18-month campaign against unconventional gas in rural areas in the southern half of Victoria, particularly in the rich farmlands of south-west Victoria and Gippsland, culminated in a 1000-strong protest in Melbourne this month.

Wool and red meat prices are rising and so are agribusiness wages, increasing the political clout of farmers and their representative bodies.

The upcoming state by-elections in South-West Coast and Polwarth, combined with over 1700 mostly anti-gas submissions to an ongoing parliamentary inquiry, undoubtedly had a influence in the Coalition’s new gas policy.

The Coalition’s policy appears largely based on the Victorian Farmers Federation policy, which was itself recently strengthened by a conference motion brought by farmers from south-west Victoria.

However, it must not be forgotten that agricultural exports also have floating prices and are influenced by the same global economic slowdown that has helped dragged down gas prices.

If China’s slowing economy results in anxious parents in Beijing and Shanghai no longer paying $AUD60 to $100 for Australian powdered infant formula, then an entire local industry is placed at risk.

If Japan reduces its appetite for premium Australian beef, or executives in Hong Kong take the scissors to business wear budgets, then the effects will be felt locally as well.

Fossil fuels may again dominate the economic stakes thanks to their high price inelasticity, causing large swings from relatively small changes to supply or demand.

The instant economic sugar hit that gas and oil fracking can provide could also be a future godsend for state and federal governments under pressure from rising unemployment and stagnating wages.

The estimates for how long a fracking operation can produce oil or gas varies from between three years and thirty years, but for any government under siege and facing an election that represents a lifetime.

Suffering from an impeding departure of local vehicle manufacturing and uncertainty over where new submarines are to be built, South Australia appears to be hitching its wagon to unconventional gas.

South Australian Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, a member of a minority Labor Government, tweeted after the Victorian Coalition’s policy announcement that SA was “now the only welcoming jurisdiction for oil and gas investment supplying the Australian east coast markets”.

Should warnings from petroleum lobbyists come true, and a lack of domestic production does significantly increase local gas prices, then that could also become an election-defining issue for Victoria’s mainly urban population.

Providing that oil and gas companies have sufficient capital and shareholder goodwill, they could ride out the slowdown and return to their non-perishable oil deposits once global prices trend upwards again.

Bargain hunters have also been snapping up shares in oil and gas companies, hoping that their ‘buy in gloom, sell in boom’ strategy will pay off when the oil price rises.

For example, Kerry Stokes bought considerable Beach Energy holdings for as low as 62 cents on the dollar compared to boom times.

Tehan calls for RAAF to bomb ISIS in Syria


The Hamilton Spectator – August 15, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has called for the Royal Australian Air Force to expand its current bombing campaign against ISIS terrorists in Iraq to include Syria.


Mr Tehan made the call in an opinion piece published by the Herald Sun on Thursday, arguing that Australia had an obligation to act in Syria to prevent terrorism at home and stop atrocities overseas.

“We are acting in Iraq against Daesh (ISIS) with our Hornets launching air strikes on a regular basis. We should be doing the same in Syria,” Mr Tehan wrote.

“It is in our interests to end the suffering of its civilians and to degrade the Daesh ‘caliphate’, which continues to shine as a beacon for global terrorism.”

Australia currently has F/A-18 Hornet jets stationed in the Middle East to attack terrorist targets in Iraq at the request of that nation’s government.

Launching military action might involve a different legal process despite Australia not recognising the legitimacy of Syria’s government, which as been attacking its own people as part of a brutal civil war.

Mr Tehan is chair of the Parliament’s Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is mandated with reviewing spying and counter-terror laws.

The PJCIS does not have an explicit mandate to recommend military action but Mr Tehan invoked his recent meetings with security agencies in France, the UK and USA as part of his argument for bombing Syria.

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if Parliament should vote on the proposal.

“Like our contribution to the effort in Iraq, any contribution to the effort in Syria would need to be decided by the National Security Committee in consultation with our allies,” Mr Tehan said.

“After doing this with regard to Iraq, the Prime Minister made a statement in Parliament.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported Mr Tehan’s suggestion, but no formal process had begun to expand Australian airstrikes to Syria.

When asked if Australia should also take military action against the Syrian Government, whose campaign of mass murder, torture and rape mirrors that of ISIS, Mr Tehan said an end to that conflict should come through the United Nations.

“Australia must do its part now to assist the fight against Daesh,” he said.

“On the broader question of the civil war in Syria, the international community needs to come together at the UN and bring about a resolution to the conflict, with leadership from the UN Security Council.”

Lowy Institute research fellow and former Army officer, Associate Professor Rodger Shanahan, has labelled Mr Tehan’s Syria call “bizarre” and argued it would stretch Australia’s military resources.

Deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek told ABC radio that she agreed Syria was a humanitarian disaster but criticised how the push to expand RAAF bombing was announced.

“I think it’s extraordinary, frankly, that the Government sent out a backbencher to start floating ideas without any clear proposal, without any explanation to the Australian people of what the legal basis would be, what the mission would be, what success would look like,” she said.

‘Debate, not hate’ on same-sex marriage


The Hamilton Spectator – August 15, 2015 

FORMER Casterton man Lachlan Beaton, who has become a prominent figure in the debate over same-sex marriage, has called for people on both sides of the issue to abandon “hate”.


“As the weeks drew closer to (Tuesday’s Coalition party room vote), the debates become quite vitriolic on both sides,” Mr Beaton said.

“I went to a marriage equality rally (in Sydney) on Sunday and there was a lot of hate towards the other side, and I suspect the same is happening on the ‘anti’ side.

“I hope that over the next 12 months the debate doesn’t bring out the deepest darkest issues.”

Mr Beaton urged other same-sex marriage supporters to concentrate on the “important issues”, such as the impact of inequality on rural youth, rather than denigrating opponents.

He has been featured in news reports worldwide after he uploaded an emotional YouTube video that discussed his 12-year struggle to come to terms with his homosexuality.

Mr Beaton realised he was gay at about age 15 but hid the fact from everyone in his life, including his identical twin brother.

Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch saw Mr Beaton’s video and used it to support his campaign for a bi-partisan private member’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage.

Despite the campaign, federal Liberal and National MPs and Senators voted two-to-one to block a ‘free’ vote on same-sex marriage during a six-hour party room meeting on Tuesday.

Backbench Coalition MPs can still cross the floor of Parliament and vote for same-sex marriage and not be punished, but any cabinet members that do so will be sacked from their ministerial positions.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s party room strategy has made it almost certain that any bill to legalise same-sex marriage will be defeated if put to Parliament before the next election.

Mr Beaton returned to Australia this week from his home in New York City in order to lobby MPs in Canberra and give a talk to students at his former school, Monivae College.

The Spectator asked Mr Beaton if the private member’s bill vote should still go ahead even if it created a damaging spectacle in Parliament.

“I think, from a political point of view at a sensible level, you should look at taking it off the table until there is a path through,” Mr Beaton said

“Having met with (Mr Entsch) on Monday, he’s really not worried about the politics of it and he’s said that to me directly.

“If there’s a prospect of MPs crossing the floor he would probably welcome it; he’s got a really strong conscience on this and he’s not going to let it go away.”

Mr Beaton met with Wannon MP Dan Tehan in Canberra on Monday, where there was agreement that youth mental health was a pressing issue.

However, Mr Tehan remained committed to his belief in the traditional definition of marriage and repeated his public pledge to support a free vote on same-sex marriage.

The next day Mr Tehan backflipped during the party room meeting and now supports the same-sex marriage decision being made by the people and not the Parliament.

The Coalition cabinet appears split on the issue of how to proceed now that Mr Abbott has made an open-ended pledge to have the issue decided “by the people”.

Some senior Liberals want a ‘plebiscite’ on same-sex marriage, which would require a simple vote by every eligible Australian to settle the matter outright.

Social conservatives want to hold a full referendum, which would require a majority of people in at least four of Australia’s six states to support same-sex marriage, a much higher hurdle to clear.

Single-officer police stations are “lifeblood” of communities


The Hamilton Spectator – August 06, 2015

SINGLE-officer police stations are the “lifeblood” of smaller regional communities and must be retained, according to Victorian shadow police minister Edward O’Donohue.


Mr O’Donohue visited Macarthur police station last week with South West Coast MP Denis Napthine as part of a tour of local police operations.

“We, as a Coalition, strongly believe in the value of single-member stations,” Mr O’Donohue said.

“They are integral to the lifeblood of communities and we want to make sure that they are preserved, that they stay open and that they continue to be central to the life and heart of so many communities in Victoria.”

Mr O’Donohue accused the State Government of failing to match the Coalition’s police recruiting drive and creating a shortage of officers for regional Victoria.

“When we were in government we recruited 1900 additional police, the largest single additional recruitment of police in Victoria Police’s history,” he said.

“Labor has turned off the tap. The police academy is operating at half strength. Labor has made no commitment to additional police.”

Police Minister Wade Noonan in response accused Mr O’Donohue of running a scare campaign during his visit to the south-west and said police offer allocations were a matter for the Chief Commissioner.

Under the previous Coalition State Government, Victoria Police released a ‘blue paper’ policy discussion document that suggested smaller police stations would lose their full-time officers.

As a replacement, ‘super stations’ would be created to send roving officers to where they were needed.

The previous and current state governments have played down the ‘blue paper’ but The Spectator understands that Victoria Police has continued to survey officers for their thoughts on the ‘super station’ model.

Mr O’Donohue said police ‘hubs’ could help supplement single-officer stations, but should not replace them.

“A larger hub can always provide reinforcement, can always work with these sort of stations (Macarthur), but it can’t

replace, in our view, the work that these sort of places do,” he said.

Dr Napthine also said he was committed to keeping single-officer stations.

“The frontline of community safety, and community confidence, is the local police station and the local officer,” he said.

“That’s got to be maintained, protected and reinforced.”

Dr Napthine also welcomed amendments to a recent ‘two-up’ police safety policy that aimed to eliminate instances of police officers working alone.

The new policy was implemented in response to a heightened terror alert level and several terrorism-related incidents, but exemptions were added because of the burden placed on regional police stations.

“What we want is the opportunity for experienced single officer stations to operate with common sense; priority on safety for themselves but at the same time having the flexibility to respond as required in the community,” Dr Napthine said.

“Safety of officers must be the highest priority, but you can also achieve that with common sense.”

Potential $6 Billion Oil Deposit in SW Vic

The Hamilton Spectator – September 22, 2015 

SOUTH-WEST Victoria is potentially sitting on a $6 billion oil and gas deposit with a production capacity of 100,000 barrels per day, according to Melbourne-based industrial engineering and mining company Mecrus Resources.

Mecrus has told Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into a potential onshore unconventional gas inquiry, via a written submission, that there is a ‘shale oil’ and natural gas deposit between Casterton and the South Australian border.

The company believes the commercial prospects for this deposit are “beyond doubt” after it “invested significant money to date in detailed exploration and investigation” and commissioned an independent study.

Representatives from Mecrus are due to give testimony to a Gas inquiry hearing in Hamilton’s Performing Arts Centre on Wednesday.

“The oil shale is quite deep and it is significantly separated from any utilised groundwater aquifers,” Mecrus managing director Barry Richards wrote in the submission.

“The identified resources in our primary target area are also extremely thick and of world class in nature”.

The primary target area is comprised of two mineral exploration licence areas held by Mecrus with a combined size of about 1500 square kilometres.

The two tenements, EL5298 and EL5297, incorporate land from around Ardno, Strathdownie and Wilkin to the south, to around Lake Mundi and Tullich in the north.

The eastern border of the two adjacent tenements begins about 10 kms west of Casterton and is hemmed in by the variety of state nature reserves and Crown land between Casterton and the SA border.

The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain 'world class' shale oil deposits
The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain ‘world class’ shale oil deposits

“If the progression to the next stage from exploration to mining is successful, then it would be expected that many support companies would establish offices and service centres to support the development,” Mecrus’s submission stated.

Mecrus did not state how deep underground the oil deposit is meant to be, but other oil and gas companies have been exploring about four kilometres beneath the surface near Penola, SA.

The ‘Mecrus Group of Companies’ includes a variety of businesses focussed on groundwater management and desalination.

But its resources department is current focussed on mineral and petroleum exploration and not production.

The largest single project that Mecrus has worked on, according to public reports, is a $135 million contract to supply four giant coal-handling machines at the Abbot Point Coal Terminal in North Queensland.

Some of the company’s flagship contracts, listed as ‘case studies’ on its website, were worth between $2m and $10m.

The revelations in Mecrus’s submission could further agitate anti-gas activists and locals farmers who have joined their cause.

Landowners from south-west Victoria joined a protest rally in Melbourne on Sunday that called for the entire state to be declared “gasfield free” due to concerns that an onshore unconventional gas industry would damage agriculture.

Mecrus has also stated that, if an oil drilling project goes ahead, south-west Victoria could also be used for ‘carbon sequestration’ to held Australia meet its international emissions reduction targets by pumping greenhouse gas underground.

The Mecrus submission said the deposit as been “independently assessed” to likely contain 360 million barrels of oil as well as pockets of natural gas.

The deposit is believed to have a lifespan of 40 years and could produce more than $600 million in royalties for the Victorian Government during that time.

Given that oil royalty rates in Victoria are usually about 10 per cent of net production value, the economic value of the deposit could be as high as $6 billion.

If the project ever goes ahead it could, at peak production, create a yearly economic output larger than Iluka Resource’s Hamilton mineral sands separation plant or the Portland Aluminium Smelter,

Mecrus Resources notes that the “financial expenditure for such projects is extremely large” but says that it would bring “massive flow on effects for local communities”.

“If the progression to the next stage from exploration to mining is successful, then it would be expected that many support companies would establish offices and service centres to support the development,” Mecrus’s submission stated.

“This also will have a positive impact on the employment of local citizens through support functions to a new industry.”

The company says its exploration results indicate “there is a significant Oil Shale reserve and associated hydrocarbons contained within these Oil Shales” in the Otway Basin.

Mecrus has submitted ‘commercial in confidence’ documents to the parliamentary gas inquiry, including work and operation plans, an environmental management plan and groundwater contingency plan.

The managing director offered to give MPs a confidential briefing on request and stated in its submission that the aboveground impact from oil drilling in its exploration licence areas would be about one hectare in total.

Mecrus will probably have to use the controversial hydraulic fracturing, AKA ‘fracking’, technique to improve yields from any oil and gas deposits found in south-west Victoria.

Fracking involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemical underground to break up rock layers; the technology has been a major source of opposition to unconventional gas from farmers.

Mecrus has also proposed to fill the remaining underground void with carbon dioxide to cash in on the search for ‘carbon capture and storage’ facilities.

Brown coal power stations are a major contributor to Australia’s high per-capita carbon emissions.

A recent advertising campaign by the Mineral Council of Australia, promoting coal as “amazing”, has talked up the possibility of carbon capture to improve the economic and environmental virtues of the fossil fuel.

There is only one functional carbon capture operation in the world, located in Canada, but there are plans to use the technology to store emission from coal power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

Mecrus has successfully completed a number of large construction and maintenance projects since the company was formed in 1999, but it has never started or delivered a mine or oil production site.

Mecrus established its mining and resource division in 2009 and was awarded its first exploration licence in 2010.

The collapse of oil and gas prices over the past 12 months has proven to be a challenge for Australia’s petroleum exploration and production companies.

South Australia’s Beach Energy, which holds a number of onshore gas exploration licences in south-west Victoria, was forced to slash capital expenditure after oil prices dropped and its share price plummeted.

Mecrus is a privately owned company with a much lower profile than its publicly traded competitors and it does not have to publish its annual reports.

The Victorian Parliamentary submission by Mecrus represents a rare insight into the company, as its latest press release was issued in August 2011 and its last four-page newsletter came out in late 2013.

Backing up what the company told Victorian MPs in 2011, the July 2015 submission states that “we do not believe there is any commercially viable Coal Seam Gas reserve” in the Otway basin.

The company wants any future oil activity to be governed under Victoria’s Mineral Resources Sustainable Development Act, rather than the Petroleum Act.

This could see oil and gas projects go ahead in Mecrus’s south-west Victorian exploration licence areas even if the Victorian Government decided to extend its current moratorium into onshore gas exploration and fracking.

Mecrus argued that treating south-west Victorian oil extraction under mining legislation would “strengthen regulatory safeguards and prevent delays to development of the industry”.

Mecrus also urged MPs to take note of a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency that downplayed the potential effects of hydraulic fracturing for oil on drinking water resources.



Tehan misses out on portfolio under Turnbull


The Hamilton Spectator, 22 September, 2015

WANNON MP Dan Tehan has missed out on a ministerial portfolio from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s post-leadership spill cabinet reshuffle.


Some of Mr Tehan’s fellow Victorian Liberals were big winners in the reshuffle, which saw a number of key Abbott-era ministers replaced but the Immigration, Finance, Environment and Trade portfolios left with their original holders.

Melbourne MPs Kelly O’Dwyer and Josh Frydenberg picked up key business portfolios as part of an effort to overturn Abbott’s ‘economic team’, who were strongly criticised by Mr Turnbull during a speech announcing his intention to challenge for leadership.

Victorian Senator Mitch Fifield has also moved up to the Communications and Arts portfolios.

Mr Tehan had backed Mr Abbott to remain as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, but said before the reshuffle that he would be happy to serve in any role under Mr Turnbull.

Mr Tehan will likely attend selected cabinet meetings in future as part of his work on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Industry.

He is also chair of the high-profile Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, which is primarily tasked with reviewing proposed counter-terror and intelligence gathering legislation.

The Committee recently released its report into legislation designed to allow the Australian Government to revoke the citizenship of dual nationals who engage in terrorist activity, or join or fight overseas for a terrorist group.

New ministry sworn in September 21, 2015: 
Prime Minister The Hon Malcolm Turnbull MP
Minister for Indigenous Affairs

Minister for Women

Senator the Hon Nigel Scullion

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Cabinet Secretary

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Counter Terrorism

Senator the Hon Arthur Sinodinos

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield MP

The Hon Michael Keenan MP

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister

Assistant Minister for Productivity

Assistant Cabinet Secretary

The Hon Alan Tudge MP

Senator James McGrath

Dr Peter Hendy MP

Senator the Hon Scott Ryan

Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development The Hon Warren Truss MP
(Deputy Prime Minister)
Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia

Minister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects

The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP

The Hon Paul Fletcher MP

Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister The Hon Michael McCormack MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Trade and Investment

Minister for International Development and the Pacific

Minister for Tourism and International Education

Minister Assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment

The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP

The Hon Steven Ciobo MP

Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck

Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck

Attorney-General Senator the Hon George Brandis QC
(Leader of the Government in the Senate)
Minister for Justice

Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs

The Hon Michael Keenan MP

Senator the Hon Concetta FierravantiWells

Treasurer The Hon Scott Morrison MP
Minister for Small Business

Assistant Treasurer

The Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP

The Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP

Assistant Minister to the Treasurer Mr Alex Hawke MP
Minister for Finance

(Deputy Leader of Government in the Senate)

Senator the Hon Mathias Cormann
Special Minister of State The Hon Mal Brough MP
Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources The Hon Barnaby Joyce MP
Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Senator Anne Ruston
Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science

(Leader of the House)

The Hon Christopher Pyne MP
Minister for Resources, Energy and Northern Australia The Hon Josh Frydenberg MP
Assistant Minister for Science The Hon Karen Andrews MP
Assistant Minister for Innovation Mr Wyatt Roy MP
Minister for Immigration and Border Protection The Hon Peter Dutton MP
Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Senator the Hon Concetta FierravantiWells
Minister for the Environment

Minister for Cities and the Built Environment

The Hon Greg Hunt MP

The Hon Jamie Briggs MP

Minister for Health The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Minister for Sport The Hon Sussan Ley MP
Minister for Rural Health

Assistant Minister for Health

Senator the Hon Fiona Nash

Mr Ken Wyatt AM MP

Minister for Defence Senator the Hon Marise Payne
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Centenary of ANZAC

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

The Hon Stuart Robert MP

Minister for Defence Materiel and Science The Hon Mal Brough MP
Assistant Minister for Defence The Hon Darren Chester MP
Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield
(Manager of Government Business in the Senate)
Minister for Employment Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Minister for Social Services The Hon Christian Porter MP
Minister for Human Services The Hon Stuart Robert MP
Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Senator the Hon Concetta FierravantiWells
Minister for Education and Training Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham
Minister for Vocational Education and Skills

(Deputy Leader of the House)

Minister for Tourism and International Education

The Hon Luke Hartsuyker MP

Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck


Liberals preselect Britnell for South-West Coast


The Hamilton Spectator – 22 September, 2015

SOUTH-WEST Coast’s state by-election Liberal candidate will be Woolsthorpe farmer Roma Britnell after she won support from a majority of local party members at a preselection vote on Sunday.


Ms Britnell told The Spectator that she was “honoured to have been nominated to represent the Liberal Party in South-West Coast.

“I have lived in the region my whole life and raised a family here and I look forward to addressing its issues, strengths and challenges,” she said.

“Roads will be one of the significant issues.”  

Ms Britnell is the vice president of United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, a commodity group of the Victorian Farmers Federation.

Her family’s farm was selected to host the launch of the Federal Government’s Agriculture Policy Whitepaper in early July.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Wannon MP Dan Tehan attended the whitepaper launch.

The parliamentary secretary for agriculture, Tasmanian Senator Richard Colbeck, also attended the July event.

Senator Colbeck was promoted by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Sunday to Minister for Tourism and International Education and minister assisting the Minister for Trade and Investment.

The Weekly Times has reported that 90 Liberal Party members engaged in two rounds of voting to preselect Ms Britnell.

Glenelg Shire Councillor Anita Rank and Portland accountant Deborah Kieller had also stood for preselection.

The Spectator understands that the Warrnambool region has about four times more Liberal Party members than Portland, where Ms Rank and Kieller were based.

Former state upper house MP Donna Petrovich, and fashion retail businesswoman Jacinta Anderson and Tom Napthine, the son of former South-West Coast MP Denis Napthine, were also contenders.

Ms Britnell will be going up against the Coalition’s partner, the Nationals, who have nominated former Warrnambool Mayor and Liberal Party member Michael Neoh as their candidate.

The Greens have announced Warrnambool student Thomas Campbell as their candidate and Roy Reekie may run as an independent if Labor does not nominate for the seat.

South-West Coast was vacated by former Premier Denis Napthine after 27 years of representing the region, which goes to the polls for the by-election on October 31.

Rates rise cap a risk to local gov staff, services


The Hamilton Spectator – August 18, 2015

THE State Government’s proposed rates cap will cause “long-term unsustainability” and cuts to staff or services from local governments, according to Southern Grampians Shire Councillor Dennis Dawson.


Cr Dawson made the comments during a debate on how to respond to the State Government’s latest round of consultation, which took place in Wednesday’s council meeting.

Cr Katrina Rainsford said she supported the rates capping policy as a way to make local governments more “efficient and effective” but criticised the State Government for increasing its own levies by seven per cent.

Cr Paul Battista also supported the rates cap but said he was concerned that it would increase the Shire’s vulnerability to unexpected large costs, such as superannuation blowouts or natural disasters.

The actual motion was only to note the release of the Essential Services Commission’s ‘A Blueprint for Change’ draft report and provide the Shire’s response by August 28.

The report set out the State Government’s review into how it would impose rates capping and deal with applications for an exemption by local governments.

Southern Grampians Shire Council voted unanimously to note the report and prepare its response.

Shire services director Bronwyn Herbert told councillors that the report was “very important for all councils across Victoria” as the Essential Service Commission would determine if certain shires could get exemptions from the cap.

“This report takes in all those submissions and presents a model for rate capping in the future,” she said.

“It needs to be considered very seriously.

“Tonight is not about discussion particular views or ins and outs of the policy.”

Despite Ms Herbert’s request the debate turned to the rates cap policy itself.

Cr Dawson said he was concerned that rate payers would be confused by rates and some charges being capped while others were not.

Cr Dawson was also concerned that rate payers would believe the cap would still be at the Consumer Price Index inflation rate rather than the new proposal to base the cap on an amalgam of financial forecasts.

“I think these distinctions are going to create confusion for people who relate to the whole cost as detailed in the rates notice,” he said.

Cr Dawson said the rates cap would have the potential to fundamentally change the relationship between local governments and their communities.

“One of the downsides of this proposal is that it has the strong potential to end the cross-subsidisation of council activities,” he said.

“We do cross-subsidise council activities in the community interest to make services available at reasonable prices.

“I think that rate capping will push councils towards a full cost recovery models for some services and will take away that supportiveness of cross-subsidisation.

“It ensures that we continue to be motivated by money rather than the sense of community responsibility and community support.”

Cr Dawson said he believed that rates capping would affect waste services, home help, meals on wheels, recreation services and “services to help less advantaged members of community”.

Cr Rainsford said shires need to have a “finger on the pulse” and recognise that people in business and farming “are doing more with less”.

“I’ve served on council for a long time and I haven’t seen the political will for councils to collectively, at times, say ‘no’,” she said.

“It’s not about not continuing to provide services, it’s about actually reflecting the general community as a lot of people out there don’t get five to six per cent rises each year in their pay packet.”

Cr Rainsford did criticise the State Government’s policy of increasing the levies that it requires local governments to collect.

“We have got a government that talks about the cost of living but it’s not going to worry about the fire services levy, which people are linking to their rates notices,” she said.

“They have put the levy up by seven per cent while at the same time talking about rate capping.”

Cr Albert Calvano said the shire needed to make note of the close deadlines for preparing its draft budget and any application for a rates cap exemption.

Cr Battista said he welcomed the rates cap but noted that it could increase the impact of possible “unexpected monetary issues” in the future.

“For to long many councils throughout Victoria have set their rates at a very large level and communities have been saying ‘we can’t afford it any more’,” he said.

“It is going to make us more responsible with our budgets and make sure that we get the process right by what we put forward to the community.

“I think we will work hard and maintain our services.”

Lake Condah keeping place protest


The Hamilton Spectator – August 11, 2015

A GROUP of Gunditjmara people have protested against a keeping place and business centre that Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has proposed to build at the Lake Condah Mission.


A number of Gunditjmara Elders led the protest against the “multi-million dollar” plan for a “huge building”, which involved about 30 people attending the mission site on Saturday morning with placards and banners.

The slogans displayed included ‘Land not Profit’ and ‘Not a Human Zoo’.

A keeping place is designed to exhibit pre and post-colonial Aboriginal culture, but opponents claim that it will be focussed on tourism and only a few members will get the economic benefits.

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation was established in 2005 by Gunditjmara traditional owners to progress “rights and interests in native title, cultural heritage and caring for country”.

The corporation’s management have denied that the keeping place will be commercial in nature and have defended its decision making and consultation process.

Management said it has been “entirely offended and sickened” by some of the statements that have been made accusing keeping place supporters of betraying other members’ heritage.

A statement from the corporation said that last year it commissioned “three sets of independent legal advice at a cost of just under $30,000 to review the Full Group processes in relation to the Keeping Place/Business Centre being constructed at the Lake Condah Mission”.

A GROUP of Gunditjmara people protest on Saturday morning against a keeping place and business centre that Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has proposed to build at the Lake Condah Mission. Photo: BILLY EASSON.
A GROUP of Gunditjmara people protest on Saturday morning against a keeping place and business centre that Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation has proposed to build
at the Lake Condah Mission. Photo: BILLY EASSON.

Elder and traditional owner Sandra Onus told The Spectator that that proposed keeping place had been “contentious from the word go” and many Gunditjmara people wanted it to be built in Portland.

“We have archaeological evidence that out people lived in that country,” she said.

“That’s where my people were concentrated; they grew up there.

“It’s a sacred place.”

Ms Onus said the building would be a “commercial venture” and an “intrusion” on a place where her people had enjoyed “peace and quiet” to “reflect on their journey”.

In response to a request to comment, the Gunditj Mirring provided The Spectator a statement it had made to organisers of the ‘Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page.

The statement said that the Lake Condah Mission keeping place proposal had been planned since 2007 and there had been a “lengthy, heartfelt and emotional process of talking between Gunditjmara Elders and people about the Keeping Place”.

“As part of the 2007 Gunditjmara native title settlement agreement, the Gunditjmara community negotiated $1,000,000 for the construction of a non-commercial Keeping Place to have a place for the return of Gunditjmara cultural heritage and knowledge as well as Business Centre for the Gunditjmara community to operate its business dealing with caring for country, native title, cultural heritage and our continuing connection to country,” the corporation’s statement said.

“Following an extensive Location Evaluation Study in 2008 on where the best place to build the Keeping Place/Business Centre, the Full Group decided to construct the Keeping Place/Business Centre at the Lake Condah Mission.”

The ‘Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page had 438 ‘likes’ at the time of publication but claimed that its posts on Saturday’s protest had been shared with thousands of people.

The page described itself as having been “created for members of Gunditjmara who are against the proposed building on what our elders consider to be sacred and significant land”.

Gunditjmara Elder Eunice Wright appears in a video posted to the page in which she says she feels a duty to protect the mission area as her family was the last to leave its confines.

“Lake Condah Mission, to me, is sacred”

“The land means everything to me, it really does.

“Out of respect for my family, I’m trying to protect the mission and, as we were the last family there, I will not stop fighting for that mission to be left as it is.”

Ms Wright said she lived “really well” on the mission for seven years and caught rabbit and kangaroo with traps.

The Traditional Owners Corporation has disputed some of the statements made about its management and voting membership by the Save Lake Condah Mission’ Facebook page.

“While respecting the right of people to protest, the Gunditjmara people attending the Full Group meeting held on 7 August 2015 are entirely offended and sickened at the suggestion that decisions made by the Full Group are to be labelled as the ‘raping of our land’ as described on the ‘Save the Lake Condah Mission’ page on Facebook.,” the statement said.

“As always, the Full Group meeting is open to all Gunditjmara people.

“All Gunditjmara people must respect our Gunditjmara country in honour of our Ancestral Beings, our cultural heritage and identity, our Elders, our community and our future.”

Federal wind energy regime call ‘misguided’


The Hamilton Spectator – August 08, 2015

A SENATE committee’s call for a new federally-controlled wind energy regulatory regime has been described as “misguided” and “baseless” by the Victorian Government.


The Victorian opposition has backed the committee’s call that “local councils should retain development approval decision-making”.

The Senate Select Committee on Wind Farms this week handed down 15 recommendations, inducing a call for wind energy subsidies to be slashed from 20 years to five.

The majority of the report’s authors want to establish an ‘Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Industrial Sound’ to provide advice on wind farm developments and commission research.

The report calls for State Governments to be excluded from receiving renewable energy certificates if they reject new federal guidelines on proposed wind farm developments.

If the report’s recommendations were implemented in full, existing wind farms could also face sanctions for breaching any new wind energy regulations on noise, infrasound or other impacts on humans and the environment.

Labor Senators produced a dissenting report that labelled the call for more regulation “enormously expensive, duplicative and unworkable” and accused the Australian Government of a campaign to “hamper the expansion of renewable energy generation in Australia”.

“Labor Senators reiterate their strong support for the wind energy industry in Australia,” the dissenting report stated.

Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who sat on the wind farm committee, criticised Wannon Federal MP Tehan’s support of wind farm jobs and investment on Sky News this week,

Senator Leyjonhelm said Mr Tehan had made an “assumption” that “if you don’t have wind energy, you don’t have renewable energy”.

“There are plenty of jobs from solar, biomass and geothermal and those sorts of things,” he said.

Mr Tehan did not respond to a request to comment before publication deadline.

Western Victoria State Labor MP Gayle Tierney dismissed the call for a greater regulatory regime on wind farms.

“These recommendations, along with the majority of recommendations in the report are misguided and founded on baseless theories,” she said.

“The report simply attacks the wind industry, including the current and future jobs it provides for Victoria.”

Victorian shadow energy minister David Southwick, who toured south-west Victoria earlier this year in support of wind farm jobs and investment, called for a “balanced” approach.

“The Victorian Coalition is committed to providing an affordable and reliable renewable energy sector that delivers jobs and investment for Victoria,” he said.

“Wind is a key component for Victoria’s energy mix, but must be balanced with community consultation to protect amenity and environmental value of our communities.

“(Premier) Daniel Andrews has ripped away local input into planning decisions on wind farms from local councils which are now purely at the discretion of the Planning Minister in Spring Street.”

Cape Bridgewater landowner Sonia Trist, who lives near a wind farm and blames the turbine noise for her health problems, told The Portland Observer that she hoped the Australian Government would adopt the recommendations.

Macarthur landowner Annie Gardner appeared on Alan Jones’s TV program on Sky News this week and gave her support for the recommendations.

She blamed the neighbouring AGL Macarthur wind farm’s construction for the decline of her fine wool growing business and the turbines for her family’s headaches and heartburn.

“We didn’t know anything about infrasound and we didn’t get a great deal of background noise but the infrasound is there 24/7; all day and all night our home is toxic,” she said.