Western Victoria’s aquifers and surface water face a “low” risk from fracking


The Hamilton Spectator – August 08, 2015 

WESTERN Victoria’s aquifers and surface water face a “low” risk from onshore unconventional gas fracking, according to a State Government report that has been harshly criticised by The Greens.


The report explored “hypothetical onshore natural gas development scenarios”, including a wide band of shale gas west of Casterton and three coal seam gas areas between Casterton, Merino and Dartmoor.

Another hypothetical coal seam gas field was modelled in the prime dairy region between Macarthur and Koroit.

Unconventional gas development involves, to varying degrees depending on the type of gas, the controversial extraction method of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.

Water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure in order to ‘frack’ a gas well and the process has been depicted by activists as dangerous to the environment and human health.

Though the main body of the report presented unconventional gas as low risk, its introduction made candid statements about the proposed industry.

“Gas extraction depressurises the gas-bearing formation and may cause a decline in groundwater level, which could impact water users and ecosystems,” the report stated.

“Groundwater level decline may also cause land subsidence.

“Hydraulic fracturing can increase gas yield, but may unintentionally contaminate water supplies with hydraulic fracturing fluids and induce seismicity (earthquakes).”

Victorian Greens Leader Greg Barber has rejected a water table report’s main findings as “flawed” and accused the consulting company that produced it of having a commercial interest in seeing the fracking moratorium lifted.

“If the government is backing these findings, they seem to be saying that drilling in Western Victoria will be a lot lower risk than other places,” he said.

“I’m just not buying it.”

“There’s no actual evidence provided that the water table will only fall by 2 to 10 metres from gas drilling and extraction. All their other conclusions follow from that.

“That impact could be devastating enough to fragile farmlands and sensitive ecosystems, already stressed by drought and climate change.”

The Spectator has sought comment from Western Victoria Labor MP Gayle Tierney but she did not respond before publication deadline.

The ‘Otway region synthesis report: overview of the assessment of potential impacts on water resources’ was one of four submissions made by the Victorian Government for the State Parliament’s inquiry into unconventional gas.

The inquiry is due to report its findings to Parliament in December, and the recommendations could see the State Government lift or extend its current moratorium into most onshore gas exploration activities.

The water report stated that gas development in the Otways and Western Victoria would have a “low” impact on the water table with water flow changes and aquifer depressurisation “within historical ranges” and “the potential for chemical contamination of groundwater from hydraulic fracturing fluids is low”.

Lowan Nationals MP Emma Kealy repeated her party’s pledge to not approve any gas development that would pose a threat to agriculture.

“The Coalition has a strong history in unconventional gas, banning the use of dangerous BTEX chemicals, introducing the gas exploration moratorium, and commissioning extensive water and environmental studies and entering into a broad community consultation process,” she said.

“This is in stark contrast to Labor, who recklessly issued 72 gas exploration permits and 23 extraction licenses with no studies into the impact of fracking on our land, environment and water.

“This report forms just one of the submissions to (Parliament’s) Inquiry into Unconventional Gas. I await the final recommendations of the Inquiry with interest.”

The water report’s authors used test drilling results to estimate the water table impact of hypothetical shale and coal seam gas development in the Otways and Western Victoria regions.

Though much of south-west Victoria is covered by shale and tight gas exploration licences, The Spectator has only found one coal seam gas exploration licence that was granted in Western Victoria in previous years.

The private company that owned the licence, Mecrus Resources, “has ruled out CSG” according to a separate State Parliament report.

The current report found that “shale gas…is expected to exist in the Casterton Formation at depths greater than 2500m.”

“Prospective shale gas resources could be located near the South Australian border.”

Parents call for change of mind on same-sex marriage


The Hamilton Spectator – August 04, 2015

THE parents of former Casterton area man Lachlan Beaton, who posted an emotional online video calling for same-sex marriage in Australia, have called for Wannon MP Dan Tehan to change his mind on the issue.


Wando Bridge cattle farmers Andrew and Juddie Beaton met with Mr Tehan in person after Lachlan’s video started gaining media attention.

The video has also become part of Queensland LNP MP Warren Entsch’s campaign for a bipartisan same-sex marriage bill.

Lachlan posted the video to YouTube three weeks ago and he estimates it has been seen 70,000 times across various video and news websites.

In the video Lachlan describes his 12-year struggle to come to terms with his own sexuality, which he successful hid from identical twin brother Charles.

Lachlan grew up around Casterton and felt pressure to conform to a local culture at the time where gays were seen as outsiders to be made fun of.

Andrew and Juddie now believe that same-sex marriage legislation will be vital to sweeping away the last pockets of discrimination.

WANDO Bridge cattle farmers Andrew and Juddie Beaton, who are calling for Wannon MP Dan Tehan to change his mind on same-sex marriage, on their farm near Casterton. Photo: JUDY DE MAN.
WANDO Bridge cattle farmers Andrew and Juddie Beaton, who are calling for Wannon MP Dan Tehan to change his mind on same-sex
marriage, on their farm near Casterton. Photo: JUDY DE MAN.

Mr Tehan’s position throughout the recent national debate on same-sex marriage has been to support “the current definition of marriage contained in the Marriage Act 1961, which states that marriage is a union between a man and a woman”.

“However, I acknowledge that there is a diversity of views in the local community about this,” Mr Tehan said previously.

“While I support the traditional definition of marriage, I also support this issue being dealt with as a matter of conscience.”

Andrew said he and Juddie had spent 50 minutes discussion the issue with Mr Tehan.

“We asked for a meeting and I said to his secretary: ‘if he’s not prepared to listen then let us know and we won’t bother coming’,” Andrew said.

“He did listen and he was really good but he started off by saying that he didn’t know how he would feel, as a parent, because he wasn’t in that position.

“He is like a lot of other politicians who make a decision on this matter and they don’t really know how it affects them or other people.”

Juddie said the mental health issues also should be sufficient to get Australia to “move on from this situation”.

“It’s a terrible thought: those children have to find themselves somewhere, work out their own identity, and it’s much better if it’s done with their family’s backing.”

Andrew noted that “governments spend a lot of money on mental health, and just saving lives.”

“Driving around here with all the safety barriers that are put on roads to save a life; well this is one decision that would save more than one life, it would save a lot of lives,” he said.

Lachlan revealed in his video that his coming to terms with being gay involved periods of self destructive behaviour, excess drinking and depression to the point of hospitalisation at some points.

The Beatons see the issue in historical as well as personal terms, likening the same-sex marriage as just another reform following voting rights for women and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

They spoke of the recent referendum in Ireland and United States Supreme Court decision, both of which paved the way for same sex marriage in those countries.

“We would really like Dan Tehan, our local member, to change his mind,” Andrew said.

“We have changed our mind. We wouldn’t have thought like this ten years ago. So many of our friends have said the same thing.

“One of the slogans ‘it’s OK to be gay’. Same thing for politicians: ‘it’s OK to change your mind’.

“The next generation will look back and think ‘gee we debated all this, fancy that’.”

Juddie said she suspected some MPs were reluctant to challenge their party leader’s position on the issue because they wanted posts as cabinet ministers.

Federal Parliament will resume on August 10 but it is unclear whether a private member’s bill will even get to the stage of facing a vote.

Doctor Payment Plan Defended


The Hamilton Spectator – August 01, 2015

HAMILTON Medical Group has defended its new ‘pay on the day’ policy for GP appointments, which was announced last Saturday and will take effect on September 28.

The clinic has pointed to a freezing of Medicare rebates to GPs since November 2012, under both Labor and Coalition Governments, as a partial reason for its payment policies.

A statement from Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said doctors should not use the rebate freeze as an excuse to unfairly increase prices.

The clinic’s announcement was heavily criticised on Facebook and it also reignited a long-running debate about the local availability of bulk bulling for GP visits.

The clinic stated via an advertisement in The Spectator that “in view of the Government freezing of the Medicare rebate, in order to sustain a medical service and attract doctors to come and work in Hamilton, the Hamilton Medical Group will be changing its billing policy.”

From Monday, September 28, 2015 full payment will be required for all consultations on the day of service

“Rebates can be paid directly into your account on the same day.”

At the time of publication, 158 comments had been posted on the ‘I’ve Lived in Hamilton, Victoria’ Facebook page listing issues with Hamilton Medical Group’s payment policies.

There were also messages in support of the clinic, including one popular comment that asked locals to consider “how lucky are we to live in a country that allows us to access medical treatment for many issues”.

Prior to the ‘pay on the day’ policy announcement, The Spectator had asked users of its own Facebook page about their opinion of bulk billing.

A number of users said the non-bulk billed cost of repeated GP visits, often because of having multiple children or a chronic illness, was a major issue.

Hamilton Medical Group board chair Dr Dale Ford told The Spectator that the new payment policy would have exceptions for financial hardship and was not the only medical clinic to adopt similar measure.

“We are going to try to move to a ‘pay on the day’ policy,” he said.

“The reason for that is: as a result of what happened in recent months and years the amount of money outstanding has increased significantly and we are trying to move to have ‘pay on the day’ whenever possible.

“We understand that sometimes it’s not going to be possible, but that will also be part of the policy.”

For many families facing multiple GP visits, there has always been calculation of whether it would be cheaper to drive to Penshurst, Coleraine, Portland or Warrnambool rather than attend a non-bulk billed appointment in Hamilton.

One woman who contacted The Spectator said she considered herself to be one of the “working poor” and was battling the cost of GP visits while managing a chronic illness.

“I have many friends with young children who simply can not afford to go (to the doctor),” she wrote.

The Hamilton Medical Group states on its website that it is “a private medical practice, not a bulk billing clinic.”

Dr Ford said that despite this policy there was a “significant percentage of consultations that are bulk billed” as the option was at the discretion of doctors.

“Bulk billing is becoming far less common in the medical community because there has been no increase in any bulk billing rebates since November 2012,” he said.

“And that has been the stated intention of this Government that there is no increase in rebates from now into the distant future.

“The issue with that, for not just this practice but every other practice, is that costs clearly continue to increase.

“Our rent, the utility fees, the wages, insurance, materials, accreditation go up in the medical sector by an average of 10 per cent per year, and that’s been the case since November 2012.”

Dr Ford said the clinic wanted to “be a part of the community” and make arrangements for people in difficult circumstances.

“We do our best to look after those people that have issues, but at the same time we don’t want to abandon our approach to be a quality practice, which means getting the best doctors that we can to work here and delivering the best standard of care we can,” he said.

Dr Ford described the cost impact on poorer people of managing a chronic illness as a “national issue”.

“Is there a better way of trying to organise it? I’m sure there is but we don’t get to make the rules, we have to live by them,” he said.

“If the rebates had continued to keep pace with inflation since 2012 this may be a different story.

“This has been a political decision that I can only see as being an attempt to reduce the amount of bulk billing.”

The Spectator asked Wannon Federal MP Dan Tehan to comment on bulk billing issues in Hamilton but he referred the query to the Federal Health Minister’s office.

A statement from Ms Ley said the ‘temporary GP rebate pause’ shouldn’t provide an excuse for any unfair “sneaky price increases”.

Ms Ley’s statement said Health Department modelling suggests the rebate for GPs would only be $0.65 lower in 2015/16 and $2.10 lower in 2017/18 under the freeze.

“At the end of the day, doctors are in control of what they charge patients and I expect vulnerable and concessional patient to continue to be protected” Ms Ley said.

“I have also made it clear that I am open to reviewing the rebate indexation pause in the future as part our ongoing work with doctors and patients to reform Medicare.”