CFA Chief Officer Steven Warrington discusses his community-centred approach to emergency management, and Victoria’s upcoming fire season, at a special lunch at Laharum, near Horsham, on Wednesday, October 19, 2016.
Steven was appointed CFA Chief Officer on June 30 after a 35-year career in emergency management that started as a volunteer firefighter.
How to tell stories that will be heard with The Dressmaker’s RosalieHam
Positive stories about rural and regional communities can change outdated perceptions of ‘the bush’. They are needed to encourage population growth and investment necessary to secure the future of rural towns, and help larger communities thrive. However, gaining exposure in the cities is becoming increasingly difficult.
Join RosalieHam, author of the best-selling Australian novel, The Dressmaker, for a discussion on how regional and rural communities can make themselves heard.
Recorded at the Rural Press Club of Victoria May 18, 2016
A landmark discussion paper authored by the Australian Farm Institute says plant biosecurity RD&E that underpins Australian agriculture and its access to international markets must be prioritised and is best served by the establishment of a new research corporation.
Watch or listen to the author of the Paper, AFI director Mick Keogh, join with Tanya Pittard from Grain Producers Australia, and Tania Chapman from Voice of Horticulture to discuss the options of a plant biosecurity model that grows markets together.
Recorded at the Rural Press Club of Victoria on April 20, 2016.
FARMERS from the Western District have come together to donate straw to bushfire and drought- affected farming families so they can get back on their feet.
Instead of burning off excess straw as they prepare paddocks for the upcoming season, farmers around Harrow and Telangatuk East have donated it to the ‘Need for Feed’ and other charities.
Need for Feed links up straw and hay donors with farmers who have lost their pasture to drought or bushfire.
There is no shortage of farmers who need help, with record droughts hitting the Wimmera and areas of Queensland, and bushfires at Scotsburn and Mt Bolton in the Ballarat area.
The Scotsburn fire destroyed 4000 hectares and 12 houses in December last year while the Mt Bolton fire claimed 1300 hectares, three homes and seven sheds in February.
Need for Feed coordinator Graham Cockerell told The Spectator that the largest non- corporate donations the group had ever received had come from Warren and Jasmine Blake’s farm in Telangatuk East.
The Blakes have already seen 210 bales of straw picked up from their 3200-acre cropping and sheep farm, north of Balmoral, and The Spectator spoke to them the day before the last 50 bales were taken away.
Mr Blake said he first heard of Need for Feed, which was established in 2006, through a random post on a social media website and almost dismissed it because of the group’s lack of online members.
“It was advertised on Facebook, believe it or not, through one of Graham’s friends, and I just responded basically asking if it was real or not,” Mr Blake said.
“It snowballed, and I said there was 110 hectares of standing straw if you want it.
“I’m just going to burn it and I thought it would be better to get rid of it rather than burn it and see it go up in smoke.”
Mr Blake said the straw would help feed the livestock of farmers who had seen their grazing paddocks destroyed.
“It saves money and helps feed their stock, that’s the main thing.
“When you get burnt out you lose everything. Stock survive, but feed doesn’t.”
The last of the Blakes’ straw was hauled away on Saturday at about midday.
A convoy of about six semi-trailer trucks and two escort utes is needed to pick up each load of donated straw.
The prior convoys have attracted a lot of attention in Harrow and Telangatuk East, serving as another form of advertising for the charity.
“People see the trucks and they ask what’s going on,” Mrs Blake said.
“You tell them why they are there and they say ‘ring us, we’ll help you load. It’s too late this year (for us to donate ourselves) but next year’.”
For the Blakes, the main cost is through the labour to cut and bale the straw.
Mr Blake says he donated to “pay it forward”.
“We’ve been there before, we’ve been burnt out and people helped us. What comes around goes around.”
Mrs Blake said Facebook also helped in that they could see pictures of when the straw arrived.
“They can see where it’s come from, especially through that Facebook page,” Mrs Blake said.
“It’s the best thing about it: you get to see the faces.”
Mr Blake said a local straw cutting contractor had also volunteered his services to help get the straw prepared.
“I’ve got a bailing contractor to do it for nothing; it’s coming out of his pocket to bale it,” he said.
“It’s coming out of my pocket to cut it; it’s coming out of (Need for Feed’s) pocket to cart it.
A MAJORITY of candidates for the South-West Coast state by-election
have voiced their support for rail projects, including freight and passenger improvements, but the Coalition frontrunners have placed a greater focus on roads.
Most candidates said they would push for the State Government to honour its commitment to have the $416 million Murray Basin Rail Project completed by 2018, including restoration of the line between Ararat and Maryborough.
Independent candidate Roy Reekie, who has previously run for the Labor
Party, said he would not be a part of the government if elected “so I can’t
speak for them”.
“What I will do is lobby to ensure that project is delivered,” he said.
Mr Reekie said a Federal Government contribution would be “reasonable, as it is a national infrastructure project”.
Liberal candidate Roma Britnell said she would look at the “bigger picture” and fight for western Victoria to get a bigger share of money from the “sale” of the Port of Melbourne.
“The Government is hoping to raise $5 to $7 billion, but country Victoria
is only getting three per cent of that,” she said.
“A lot of the products of Western Victoria have been, and will be, going to the Port of Melbourne, so we need more of a share for this region.”
Nationals candidate Michael Neoh said he was “absolutely” in favour of the Murray Basin project but he was concerned that the State Government’s announcement was “not new money”.
“I think there are games being played,” he said.
“If the Federal Government won’t support it, State Government needs to fund it whole.”
Greens candidate Thomas Campbell also said he “absolutely” supported it.
“The more we do for rail freight, the more it opens up the opportunities
for passenger rail, which is good for business and tourism as well as the
community,” he said.
“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is a link to north-west Victoria.” – Jim Doukas
Jim Doukas, of the Australian Country Party, wanted to see rail networks
improved to link areas both north and south of Hamilton.
“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is
a link to north-west Victoria,” he said.
“Also for tourism: they are getting cruise ships in Portland and some of
them carry up to 3000 plus people.
“If you can get them up to the Grampians, there’s nothing like that in
Jennifer Gamble, of the Animal Justice Party, supported the project as
long as roads were the first priority.
Rodney Van De Hoef, independent, said “too often we want to rush things” and called for the government to “do the project but over several years; if we rush can turn out like East West Link and get canned.”
Michael McCluskey, independent, said he would support the project “on
principle, because I support major rail projects.”
“The single most important thing is to improve our rail system,” he said.
“We need to get more freight onto rail. There is a direct link between the
decline of rail freight and damage to our roads.”
Independent Pete Smith was the only candidate to declare opposition to spending money on rail projects for agricultural freight, comparing it to
spending $100,000 on a photography darkroom a few years before digital
cameras came in.
Mr Smith declared he had “a vested interest in freight issues” because
of his involvement in AgChoices but called for “new thinking” from
“Any organisation that is investing millions of dollars in saleyards should
be sued by their shareholders or ratepayers,” he said.
“Moving grain by rail is approaching a horizon. What we need is a sort of
“Agriculture by rail freight: is it the future? My answer is that it’s not.”
Swampy Marsh, independent, said the 2018 deadline could not possibly
“They haven’t given themselves
enough time. There’s so much work to do.
“If they started right now, they’d be pushing it to get done by 2025.
“All they are doing is saying ‘be nice to us and vote for us again before 2018’. Call me an old cynic, but they’re just weasel words.”
THE Glenelg River’s upper sections are “quite likely” to stop flowing this summer and create impacts for the environment, agriculture and recreation users.
Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority chief executive Kevin Wood blamed “record low” rainfall for the likely river flow stoppage and said his organisation had reserves of water to help with its environmental responsibilities.
“We have experienced quite low rainfall,” he said.
“The last 12 months have seen record low
The State Government has also been provided with a water ‘snapshot’ report that predicts that the Glenelg and Wimmera rivers will likely stop flowing.
Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers said any lack of Glenelg River water flow would not affect local customers and Hamilton’s reserves were more than double the predicted usage.
“Hamilton system customers are supplied with water from a very secure supply system sourced from streams in the southern Grampians catchment,” he said.
“If required during times of drought, Wannon Water also has an annual entitlement to 2,120 megalitres of water in Rocklands Reservoir, which can be transferred via the Hamilton- Grampians Pipeline to top up Hamilton storages.
“Wannon Water’s Rocklands Reservoir entitlement is also a source of water supply for Balmoral. Currently, Rocklands Reservoir is holding more than 62,000 megalitres of water and in 2014/201515 Wannon Water extracted only 46 megalitres to supply water for Balmoral customers.”
Mr Wood said rainfall rates had been in decline since the 2010 flood and that Rocklands Reservoir has been reduced to 21 per cent of its target level.
In response to lower reservoir levels, GWMWater had released only one per cent of its normal allowance for environmental flows.
Mr Wood said GHCMA had nine gigalitres of water “saved from previous years” and 3000 megalitres could be used to replenish deep pools and deal with water quality issues.
“We will concentrate on maintaining areas of native fish so that we can repopulate other areas when rainfall replenishes them,” he said.
Low rainfall over the long term, combined with a number of recent days with high temperatures, has had a devastating effect on some crops in Victoria, particularly in the Mallee region.
Mr Wood said that fl ow stoppages in the Glenelg River would also affect farmers using the water for livestock and dam replenishment and dry rivers would no longer act as natural barriers for livestock.
“I would advise recreational users to be careful with swimming and boats as water hazards will present larger risk of injury because water level is so low,” he said.
The National Party last week targeted Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville in Parliament, ridiculing a plan to use the $4 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant to help ease water shortages in country Victoria.
“It is astonishing that such a proposal would even be raised as a concept, as there is simply no pipeline that can deliver water from Wonthaggi to western Victoria,” Lowan MP Emma Kealy said.
“The minister has had to hastily backtrack and clarify that she does not want to truck desalinated water hundreds of kilometres across the state.”
Ms Kealy also criticised “the transfer of 5000 megalitres of water into the system’s dried-out secondary storage in Toolondo Reservoir”.
“Farmers downstream on the Glenelg River would love to have this quantity of water available right now to boost a system under stress
after a dry winter,” she said.
“Instead this water appears to be being lost to evaporation, thanks to the water minister’s transfer of it to Toolondo.”
Ms Neville had earlier retaliated by saying that Labor governments had built Victoria’s ‘water grid’ while the Coalition had their “heads in the sand” and were “wasting taxpayers’ money at the Office of Living Victoria.”
A WIDE range of individuals and organisations provided testimony to a Hamilton hearing of Victoria’s parliamentary unconventional gas inquiry on Wednesday.
The individual speakers were local members of a variety of anti-gas groups or alliances, though they had varied opinions on whether the industry should be subject to an ongoing moratorium, a permanent ban, or rigorous regulation that favoured agriculture.
Mineral exploration company Mecrus Resources provided testimony on a potential oil shale deposit in south-west Victoria.
Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation testified about its difficulty in managing native title agreements with gas companies.
Wannon Water gave testimony that it had not completed its own assessment of likely surface and ground water impacts from a gas
Lowan MP Emma Kealy told The Spectator that she was “surprised that the inquiry was originally not going to have a hearing in south-west Victoria, given all the exploration licences we have in the region”.
“I fought hard for a local hearing and that was worthwhile given the
large turnout,” she said.
“It was also an opportunity for myself to hear from local farmers, especially towards the end of the hearing when they spoke of their passion for the land and their views and concerns about unconventional gas.”
‘Risks not fully understood’: Mayor
HAMILTON’S State Government Gas Inquiry hearing
kicked off with an audience of about 40 people from
the local and Portland regions.
At the time of publication, representatives from four local governments had given testimony about a potential onshore unconventional gas industry on Wednesday.
A representative from Glenelg Shire said there was a concern that the industry would result in a reduction in environmental standards and risk to water and might damage the region’s green image.
Southern Grampians Mayor Peter Dark said that he shared those concerns and pointed to two separate motions passed by councillors that backed the “importance of protecting food, fibre, water aquifers”.
“In June 2015 The Southern Grampians Shire Council formally declared itself a gasfield free region due to community concerns,” he said.
“There is possibly a significant risk to agricultural
“The risks are not fully understood.”
Cr Dark said Southern Grampians was “dependent on agriculture” as it was the sector that provided the largest source of employment.
He said that the region had higher value per hectare than many other areas and “we have half a million hectares in agricultural production”.
“Southern Grampians Shire has invested heavily in a land use study to diversify local agriculture,” he said.
“We have untapped potential; we are well-placed to continue to support global food production with all the conditions to be a significant player.
“We have an obvious natural advantage: groundwater. The impact of gas needs to be considered.”
Cr Dark said that, compared to the “10/15 year lifespan of a gas field”, the “potential adverse impacts have a much longer lifespan”.
“The royalties paid to the State Government are potentially much less than the cost of damage,” he said.
Cr Dark’s testimony was met with a “hear hear” from
some in the audience.
A representative from Conrangamite shire said that the region’s existing onshore conventional gas plants provided significant employment.
He said that Conrangamite was one of the few areas that had “direct experience with onshore gas” and non-hydraulic fracturing operations “should be exempt” from the current moratorium.
“It is difficult to make informed decisions unless we know that the resource exists,” he said.
The Corangamite representative also said that there was a risk of the existing local gas operations could be put at risk by getting caught up in the push against unconventional gas.
A mineral exploration company, Wannon Water, local farmers and an anti-gas activist group were scheduled to give testimony at the hearing.
The human cost to farmers
SOUTH-WEST Victorian farmers have all spoken against the prospect of a new onshore unconventional gas industry, giving extensive and at times emotional testimony to a gas inquiry hearing in Hamilton on Wednesday.
Victorian Parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee, made up of MPs from a wide range of parties, heard from a mineral exploration company, Wannon Water and local Aboriginal traditional owners.
By far the largest number of individual speakers was made up of farmers from around the Hamilton and Portland regions, along with other locals.
Unconventional gas and hydraulic fracturing technology were compared by one farmer with the past industrial contamination scandals of DET and asbestos.
Another farmer said that he and his peers just wanted “to be left
Branxholme farmer Colin Frawley said an unconventional gas
industry would “put us at risk”.
“For our livestock, we must have underground water,” he said.
Without groundwater, he said his farming business “would be totally compromised”.
“Gas may be very profitable but we as a farming community have
to carry the risk,” he said
“They will walk away in 10/15 years. We would still be here paying taxes and contributing to the community.”
Mr Frawley described the prospect of fracking as a “marketing nightmare” for the region’s “clean and green image” with wholesale and retail buyers.
After 18 months of fighting the proposal for an onshore unconventional gas industry, signs of wear and tear are staring to show.
Drumborg farmer Gary Everett, who described himself as a “passionate lamb producer”, talked of the “psychological burden” from campaigning.
He said stress had been placed on families and marriages.
Mr Everett primarily talked about his own land, saying his father bought the property 63 years ago and was a “pioneer” in a new community.
“You could buy land, you could buy a house, but you made the
farm and the family home” he said.
“Drumborg is a great community. We are fighting for our survival.”
Mr Everett said he was a member of one of the 67 anti-gas groups across the state, and they were gaining considerable followers on a daily basis.
“Some of us have become dismayed, let down or left angry by people in Government departments, politicians, energy companies, our own farming bodies the VFF and UDV, because for saying this industry can coexist with our farms.”
“This isn’t true.”
He became choked up when talking about the possibility of farmers being arrested for “trying to protect the land for future generation”.
Byaduk farmer Aggie Stevenson told a “story of little girl on a farm” who grew up with clean and fresh food, water and air.
“Someone is threatening to take away all these things, purely
driven by greed,” she said.
“I implore you not to be the villains in the story, be the heroes.”
Eastern Metropolitan Greens MP Samantha Dunn told the hearing that Mrs Stevenson’s story “goes to the heart of the level of anxiety, the psychological burden that is taking its toll”.
Eastern Metropolitan Labor MP Shaun Leane asked Mr Frawley to expand on the marketing issue.
Mr Frawley said he had neighbours that export food to Asia and that “Our point of difference is our image, and it you compromise that, you lose it.”
Mr Everett said that he had consulted with Meat and Livestock Australia, which had told him that the responsibility for meat contamination from petroleum was with the owners.
It has been almost 18 months since one of the first anti-fracking
meetings in south-west Victoria.
The one meeting in Digby saw many others follow and the ‘Lock the Gate’ movement grew from an outsider curiosity to spawning local variants.
Some of those local variants are now apparently trying to assert their independence from the ‘Friends of the Earth’ network of professional activists, possibly to gain more credibility with conservative MPs.
Western Victoria MP Simon Ramsay said during the hearing that he found it “troubling” that there were so many anti-gas groups “running around with different agendas”.
Along with committee chair David Davis, Mr Ramsay appeared to have difficulty at times with establishing the organisational and financial structures of various anti-gas groups and regional alliances, as well as their core beliefs.
Eastern Metropolitan Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva said the testimony given on Wednesday was similar to that from Gippsland but in Hamilton he had been given the “most detailed, real world example” of potential
It has been almost two years since the State Government’s ‘Independent Gas Market Taskforce’ report, now colloquially referred to as the ‘Reith report’, which recommended that Victoria “proactively” seek
onshore unconventional gas development.
With about a year to go before an election, the then-Victorian Coalition Government played down the report and recommitted to an industry moratorium.
Aboriginal owners not informed of fracking
GUNDITJ Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation was forced to renegotiate a prior Native Title Agreement due to a gas exploration company not mentioning that it planned to use hydraulic fracturing.
Gunditj Mirring chief executive Damein Bell told a Hamilton hearing of
Victoria’s parliamentary gas inquiry on Wednesday that the Aboriginal corporation had held a number of meetings and exchanged “hundreds of pages of documents” with an unnamed gas company.
“But nothing mentioning it (fracking),” Mr Bell said.
He told the hearing that the potential for fracking, the controversial gas
extraction technique at the centre of protests against unconventional gas, was only discovered when Gunditj Mirring members read the terms of the State Government exploration permit.
“The only reason they had to consult with us was the Native Title Act; I don’t know how they would have negotiated if they hadn’t been forced to.
“The second round of negotiations was friendly, in good faith; we asked why they didn’t mention fracking in the first round.
“They said it wasn’t a public issue back then.”
The inquiry’s committee of MPs asked Mr Bell which gas exploration
company had required a second round of negotiations.
Mr Bell declined and said it was “confidential” but invited the committee
to look up which companies held Petroleum Exploration Permits (PEP) over Gunditjmara land.
Earlier in the hearing, Mr Bell said that the Aboriginal Corporation had successfully negotiated native title land use for exploration in 2013.
Several ‘monthly full briefing’ meetings were then held in 2014 to discuss
the issue of potential fracking on land within the Gunditjmara Native Title
Mr Bell said the purpose of the briefings was to “gather all members to discuss business and make decisions” and said the gas company in question also attended some of those briefings.
The Spectator reported in April 2014 that Gunditjmara People were
to, in the words of Mr Bell, “revisit” their previous native title agreement over shale and tight gas exploration permits in south-west Victoria.
Adelaide-based oil and gas company Beach Energy had a large stake, along with other companies, in two major exploration permits in south west Victoria.
Beach Energy’s 2013 annual report stated that the company “and its
participants were awarded PEP 171 and PEP 150 in Victoria after completing negotiations with Native Title Claimants”.
At the time, a spokesperson for Beach Energy did not deny being involved in Native Title renegotiations but said it was committed to fulfilling its obligations under Native Title.
Mecrus Resources, Somerton Energy, Bridgeport Eromanga Energy, Bass Strait Oil Company Limited and Mawson Petroleum also hold Petroleum Exploration Permits in areas covered by Gunditjmara Native Title areas.
When asked about the status of the Native Title renegotiation, Mr Bell said the Aboriginal corporation was “taking advantage of current moratorium” on onshore gas and the dispute resolution process was still open.
Eastern Metropolitan Greens MP Samantha Dunn asked Mr Bell if all extraction techniques should be included in native title negotiations.
Mr Bell said negotiating parties “shouldn’t hide that from one another”.
The gas inquiry committee was itself the subject of another complaint from Mr Bell.
Mr Bell said he was “extremely disappointed” that the inquiry’s interim report, which was handed down on September 1 this year, contained “no references to traditional owners”.
Inquiry committee chair David Davis MP said that it was only an interim report and that the committee “will have more to say” in the final report.
Mr Davis asked Mr Bell how indigenous views could be adequately represented in the report.
Mr Bell said that Native Title holders were the “first port of call” for new
industrial developments but the State Government process needs to provide opportunity for comment from Indigenous people.
He noted that Native Title holders could be taken to national arbitration, or be subject to overrides from the State Government, if companies accused them of negotiating in bad faith.
Northern Victoria Shooters and Fishers MP Daniel Young asked Mr Bell how the State Government could override native title holders.
Mr Bell said the Government had to “prove that they will not destroy our land” but Indigenous people “have no guarantees”.
Inquiry told further studies
needed in risks to water
WANNON Water has told a Hamilton hearing of Victoria’s parliamentary unconventional gas inquiry that it has not done its own assessment of the risks from a proposed onshore drilling and fracking.
A committee of MPs was told that State Government would most likely be left liable for cleanup costs if something went wrong with water supplies and the gas company responsible was unable to pay.
Branch manager of asset planning, Peter Wilson, told the hearing that a Victorian Government report had found a “low risk of aquifer depressurisation”, a low risk of water contamination, and a low risk of land subsidence from potential gas development.
Mr Wilson did say there was still “considerable uncertainty” due to “limited data availability” and risks to ground and surface water “need to be further studied”.
“The region is highly variable and some sites may have an unacceptable risk, particularly if community drinking water is present,” he said.
Gas inquiry committee chair David Davis MP asked what consultation had occurred between Wannon Water and gas exploration companies. Mr Wilson replied that he had “been in the role of planning for 15 years and been never approached by gas company”.
Eastern Metropolitan Labor MP Shaun Leane asked if the use of steel and concrete well casings could prevent cross contamination between saline and fresh aquifers.
Mr Wilson said that “concrete is a very robust material, considered to be best practise” but he would not say whether it would last indefinitely.
Northern Victoria Shooters and Fishers Party MP, Daniel Young, asked if the issue of well failure could apply to ordinary water bores as well.
Mr Wilson said it could but the “ramifications were different”.
“Linked wells won’t destroy the water resource with salinity, but things like introducing chemicals unfit for human consumption will,” he said.
Mr Wilson also said Wannon Water does not have a direct role in applications for drilling under Victoria’s mining and
360 million barrels under western Victoria
SOUTH – WEST Victoria’s oil shale deposit is between 15 and 30 times thicker than commercially viable deposits in the United States, according to mining exploration company Mecrus Resources.
Mecrus Resources believes there is a deposit of 360 million barrels of oil contained within its two exploration licence areas between Casterton and the South Australian border.
The company’s ultimate plan to develop the deposit would see a total of 16 wells drilled on a single site about one hectare in size.
These wells would go down 2500 metres to access the oil shale, which is believed to be contained in a layer that is 1500m thick.
Horizontal drilling would be used, with side wells trailing off between two and 3.5 kilometres in any direction.
If one of these sites were successful, then Mecrus could “clone” the operation for “multiple” potential oil deposits thought to be in the region.
These new details were contained in spoken testimony to Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry into unconventional gas, which held a hearing in Hamilton on Wednesday.
Mecrus Resources managing director Barry Richards told the inquiry committee of MPs that Mecrus was a private company that was not obliged to give public statements, but it wanted to engage with the community.
The Spectator reported on Tuesday that a written submission from Mecrus to the inquiry stated that the “prospectivity” of the south-west Victoria deposit was “beyond doubt”.
Mecrus indicated that the deposit could produce $600 million in royalty payments to the State Government over 40 years, putting its commercial value at up to $6 billion.
Almost all the information that Mecrus provided to the inquiry has been in relation to a potential oil shale deposit contained with an 1500 square kilometre exploration region between Strathdownie and Lake Mundi, about 10km west of Casterton.
Mecrus senior petroleum consultant, Dr Rodney Halyburton, told the hearing that the oil shale industry in the United States “got very excited” when they found deposits of between 50 and 100 metres in thickness.
Dr Halyburton said the company’s assessment, along with an independent
study, of the potential deposit was “based on very conservative numbers”.
He said the study was “focused primarily” on a well drilled in 2006 that was the “only onshore well in Australia” that had been producing oil shale, and he found it “amazing” that oil had started flowing from the test well while it was being drilled.
Mr Richards also said the company’s report on south-west Victoria was “conservative, but it does indicate significant resources in our area”.
Eastern Metropolitan Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva said the inquiry had previously heard from areas in Victoria with “lots of population, lots of dairy,” but not so much over near Casterton.
“I’m not talking any disrespect to be people over near South Australia; it seems to me that that’s an area where it may have limited impact. Could that happen in this area?” Mr Dalla-Riva asked.
Mr Richards replied that everything the company had been talking about
at the hearing concerned its exploration permits between Casterton and SA.
He described Mecrus as a “diverse organisation” and a “significant explorer of resources in Victoria” with over 140 employees, a “large percentage” of which were in Victoria.
Mr Richards said Mecrus itself had completed no drilling in south-west
Victoria and its further assessments since gaining the exploration licence were based on soil samples, water samples and ground
surveys. “Our people get out and talk to the landholders,” he said.
“That provides feedback to management and as exploration continues we will make ourselves available to the community.
“We have licences in Victoria that have Native Title negotiations and
agreements in place. We believe we are a very responsible community member.”
Mr Richards said the company had tried to contact various groups about its oil exploration, including the Victorian Farmers Federation, but claimed that emails had not been returned.
Mecrus’s written submission stated that hydraulic fracturing, AKA ‘fracking’, would not be an “enabling technology” for shale oil in south-west Victoria as the rock layers were “naturally fractured”.
However, fracking would likely be used to multiply the oil “recovery factor”, or percentage of oil that can be successfully extracted from the ground.
In response to the committee’s questions about safety precautions, Dr Halyburton said that “fracking has been conducted for 50 years, it’s nothing new”.
“People have to be careful. With cowboys, things can go wrong. But we will do everything according to the book,” he said.
Dr Halyburton said the oil industry had learned to be careful with spillage because accidents at offshore rigs were much more difficult to clean up than at onshore operations.
Eastern Victoria Labor MP Harriet Shing asked if an oil industry would create a net economic loss for agriculture, particularly if the marketing image of prime beef was damaged by the proximity to an oil field.
Mr Richards said “I actually fail to see how our industry would damage other industries.”
“Victoria’s lobster industry is huge throughout the world, yet we have
Bass Strait (offshore gas production).”
When asked who would pay for costs and damages in a “worst case scenario”,
Dr Halyburton said the company would take out “significant insurance” for any oil production operation.
According to Dr Halyburton, rock cuttings and excess gas from any oil project would be “reinjected” into the ground.
Gas could also be burned off in a ‘flare’, but that was not likely to happen and a local landfill would also be needed for some waste.
In terms of water management, Dr Halyburton said “Mecrus
will use proprietary technology” from its wholly owned subsidiary company ‘Desalin8’.
According to Desaln8’s website, the company offers “opportunities for extracting high quality freshwater supplies from poor quality brackish groundwater using In Situ Desalination (ISD) technology”.
SOUTH-West Victorian farmers have expressed concern about a proposed oil shale drilling project between Casterton and the South Australian border.
They say that their focus is on what will happen to food production over the next century, rather than the economic benefits over the lifespan of an unconventional oil or gas field, which can be as low as a few years.
The Spectator reported on Tuesday that a Melbourne-based industrial engineering and miner exploration company had told the Victorian Parliament’s gas inquiry it was “beyond doubt” that there was a prospective oil shale deposit in the south west.
Mecrus Resources wrote in a submission to the inquiry that it had “invested significant money to date in detailed exploration” and it believed the deposit was “world class” and could last 40 years.
The company has two exploration licences covering 1500 square kilometres between Strathdownie and Lake Mundi.
Mecrus will probably have to use the ‘fracking’ extraction technique to improve yields at the oil field if the project goes ahead, and there is the possibility of natural gas at the site as well.
The issue of fracking has generated a considerable groundswell of opposition, which includes many local farmers who see it as a threat to agriculture.
Mecrus has stated that a successful shale oil project would bring “massive flow on effects for local communities” in terms of new jobs and businesses.
With beef, lamb and wool prices at high levels, farmers are planning to tell Victorian MPs that there is a strong economic case to give priority to farming.
Byaduk North prime lamb and premium beef farmer Mal Rowe told The Spectator that “extremely productive agricultural land” was being put at risk from oil and gas development.
He said south-west Victorian pasture was averaging 20 sheep per hectare but Queensland and NSW could only manage one to three sheep per HA.
“We are adamant; we are not going to back off,” he said.
“There is a buyer who has been sourcing steers form this region for 25 years.
“They are sent to Japan as top-quality restaurant beef. He knows exactly what animals he is going to get.
“It would only take one thing to upset this.”
Mr Rowe believes that oil drilling between Casterton and South Australia would threaten aquifers that provide water for local towns and farms.
“You have got to look at the percentage of wells that will fail: about one per cent. I don’t know the number of wells they might drill but some of them will eventually fail and that will put aquifers at risk,” he said.
“Forever is a very long time; I know that wells are encased in a number of layers of steel and concrete but they will never be as strong as the substrates.”
Mr Rowe pointed to recent ‘Food Not Gas’ rallies across the region, which have attracted 100 to 300 people at each event, as evidence that many other locals shared his views.
Mecrus specifically mentioned local aquifers in its submission to Parliament, stating that “The oil shale is quite deep and it is significantly separated from any utilised groundwater aquifers”.
A number of local landowners, along with about 1000 people, attended an anti-gas rally in Melbourne on Sunday that called for a permanent ban on fracking and onshore unconventional gas.
Victoria currently has a temporary moratorium on most aspects of onshore gas but its future will be influenced by the inquiry that received Mecrus’s submission, along with 1700 others.
The inquiry was due to hold a hearing in Hamilton yesterday, with speakers from local Aboriginal groups, governments, farmers and Wannon Water.
Mr Rowe said he was “pleasantly surprised by the number of people and overwhelmed by the support we got from both country and city people”.
“There are so many people opposed to the development of an unconventional gas industry, right across Victoria from Gippsland and the south west.”
Mr Rowe said he would be willing to support a strict regulatory regime instead of a ban “but the compliance would have to be so high as to leave no doubt that it wouldn’t compromise agriculture”.
Petroleum industry lobby group APPEA has told the Victorian inquiry that an onshore unconventional gas industry would boost the economies and populations of country areas.
As mining jobs and investment slows down in Australia’s northern states, there was some interest from ex-locals in returning to the region if a similar industry took off.
BOTH sides of the debate over Iluka’s mineral sands waste disposal at Douglas have welcomed a report from a community conference run by Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority.
An independent facilitator ran the ‘Section 20B’ conference in Balmoral late last month to hear community concerns about the proposal to continue dumping millions of tonnes of mine waste at Iluka’s former mine site.
The waste, which includes low level radioactive waste in the form of naturally occurring elements, will be transported from Hamilton’s Mineral Separation Plant to the site located about 85 kilometres north.
The EPA conference report made 23 recommendations across three categories: what Iluka should do before its planning application is reviewed by Horsham Rural City Council (HRCC); what it should do if a permit is granted; and what it should do regardless of whether it gets approval.
The report stated that Iluka should implement greater groundwater and stormwater modelling, along with greater monitoring of bores and radioactive gas emissions.
Iluka should also “specify what materials can be disposed … and enforce
The recommendations also included four actions Iluka should take to “improve community understanding and alleviate health and environmental concerns”.
Iluka said in a statement that it “welcomes the report”.
“The company is currently considering the report and notes that several of its recommendations are clearly addressed either by the proposal documents submitted by Iluka to the EPA and HRCC, or by the routine regulation of current operational activities.
“The company is proposing continuation of a practice that has been occurring, regulated and accepted at Douglas for a decade and looks forward to progression of the approvals process.”
The EPA’s decision on Iluka’s works approval application is expected in October but the HRCC decision on the planning permit may take longer, possibly into next year.
Kanagulk Landcare Group member Ian Ross said he thought the EPA conference was “a good first step but it should have happened about five or six years ago.”
“We should have had a conference before the 2009 work plan variation,” he said, referring to a prior application Iluka made that significantly expanded its waste disposal at Douglas.
“The conference facilitator did a very good job of summing things up.”
Mr Ross welcomed the report’s recommendation that agencies involved establish a common ground for radiation standards and communicate their relevance in “plain English”.
“Then we can go to ARPANSA (Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency) and ask if Iluka are in compliance,” Mr Ross
“The Health Department (of Victoria) has been all over the shop, it has not been consistent.”
Another of the recommendations is that it “consider whether lining Pit 23 is a feasible option”.
Pit 23 is the main disposal area nominated as part of the planning permit application.
Mr Ross said he “definitely” supported that recommendation as Pit 23 should have had a “lining, at minimum”.
“Given the material that is to be dumped, Iluka should always have had a lining,” he said.
“There should have been a water board inquiry.”
During the EPA conference, Kangulk Landcare Group members called for Iluka to use another former mine site, ‘Echo’, for waste dumping instead of its Douglas facility.
The Echo site, near Nurrabiel, is about a 34-kilometre drive north-east of Douglas.
“Echo site has no interaction with the water table,” Mr Ross said.
“It is away from significant assets. It is 20 to 30 kilometres away from the Wimmera River.
“There is enough room for all the waste. I don’t want to push the issue onto another community but it would be a better site.”
AUSTRALIAN Wool Innovation, which funds research and marketing
on behalf of woolgrowers, has recommended that members vote in ‘WoolPoll’ for a two per cent levy for the next
However, some Western District woolgrowers want the AWI to reduce its funding for marketing activities or change its approach to promoting Australian wool around the
A two per cent levy brought in about $43 million to AWI from woolgrowers in 2013/2014, which was combined with $8.7m from brand licensing and $13m in government contributions.
AWI has previously spent 40 per cent of its funding on research and development (R&D), which has occurred both on and off farms, and 60 per cent on marketing.
AWI chief executive Stuart McCullough confirmed last week that this spending ratio will continue.
Woolgrowers who have paid a levy will be given the chance over the next six weeks to vote on how much of their sales go towards AWI, with options ranging from zero to three per cent.
Hensley Park Jigsaw Farms principal and manager Mark Wootton said he would vote to cut AWI’s funding and he believed many other local growers would do the same.
“I’m a zero (levy) man now,” he said.
“South-west Victorian growers aren’t getting much from AWI; it’s a very NSW-centric organisation.
“I’m convinced about the
R&D, but I’m not sure if
the marketing has been
Mr McCullough said the two per cent level was put forward because that was the maximum level the Government would match, and there were also concerns about the global economy.
AWI has commissioned Deloitte to produce an independent report into “all aspects” of its organisation and had found the levy offered “excellent return on investment”.
“What they found is that the company in the last three years improved productivity, we also created some demand for wool and increased wool prices, and we delivered cost savings as well,” Mr McCullough said.
“What they also said is for every $1 spent, $2.90 was
returned to woolgrowers.”
AWI had been “very successful” in promoting wool as a ‘technical’ fibre for the ‘sports and outdoor’ market, as well as re-establishing the luxury market in China.
“The recommendation is two per cent (for the levy). The rationale for that is, firstly, the cost/benefit analysis that has been done by Deloitte indicated that we are doing OK, we are doing well,” Mr McCullough said.
“(At the time of assessment) Greece looked like defaulting on loans, America was still emerging, and China looked a little bumpy. And it has proved to be really bumpy with growth there, although promised at seven per cent, it’s going to be half that.
“We are of the view that consumer confidence is not going to be great over the next three years and now is the time to ratchet up.”
Call for changes
Despite the results presented by Mr McCullough, a number of Western District woolgrowers have called for changes to be made to AWI’s approach to marketing, as well as its transparency with the results of WoolPoll and feedback from its brand campaigns.
Mr McCullough was asked during the WoolPoll launch event in Melbourne last week about the lack of WoolPoll ‘roadshow events’ in the Western District.
“Are you afraid of what
some of the farmers might
say to you?” a woolgrower
Mr McCullough dismissed that suggestion, but it appears some local woolgrowers have concerns and want better communication with AWI.
“There’s a lack of transparency, I’ve asked them about their marketing campaigns and they’ve said it can’t be judged easily; I wouldn’t be able to run my business like that,” Mr Wootton said.
“I’m sure a lot of SW Vic growers would have voted for zero last time. AWI must have that voting data but they won’t release it.
“There’s a lot of frustration as the wool industry has changed, but I’m not sure AWI has.”
Nareeb Nareeb Station property manager and stud principal Richard Beggs said “overall I’m pretty happy with AWI” but he had concerns.
“I support the two per cent levy. I wish that AWI would offer growers a way to vote on how the levy was spent,” he said.
“I would like to see a higher percentage spent on research and on farm innovation rather than marketing
“A lot of growers feel that the spending has shifted too far towards marketing.
I’m a little disappointed in the WoolPoll committee that they didn’t give us that option.”
As AWI has recognised, many woolgrowers are looking at their returns and being tempted to switch to producing crops or other livestock.
‘Glenholme’ woolgrower Matthew Linke said he was questioning the two per cent levy recommendation.
“We’re not seeing the return with auction prices. There’s a fair value for 21 microns but with 16-17 microns it’s getting hard to meet costs,” he said.
“We want to go with a contract rather than go to auction.
“I can’t see the benefits of AWI flowing through to growers if they are producing super fine.”
Mr Linke also said that he found AWI’s approach to marketing “concerning” and he had spoken to wool buyers who shared the same opinion.
Money was also a big concern for Mr Wootton.
“Two per cent is a lot of money … I’m not going to say how much but it’s a fair motza,” he said.
“This is a real life decision and we have got other options.
“Cattle is an option for us, or prime lamb. Right now, protein is king.”