Desal plant picket shut down

July 19, 2008

On July 14, the Victorian police moved in to remove a group of protesters from public land near the site of the proposed $3.1 billion desalination plant in Wonthaggi.

Since May 10, the community group Your Water Your Say had maintained a 24-hour picket and caravan demanding an end to the construction of a pilot project for the highly controversial desalination plant. According to YWYS, the Victorian state government ordered the removal of the community assembly.

According to YWYS spokesperson Andrea Bolch, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) announced on July 9, via press release, that they would have to "temporarily" close the Commonwealth government road, which provided access to the protest site, due to supposed safety concerns for the community and workers. The road was used by a range of community members and for emergency situations such as fires.

Bolch told Green Left Weekly that the DSE did not inform YWYS about the plan to close the road but that a sympathetic community member sent them the media release. According to Bolch, the group then took a decision not to vacate the site, defending the right to peaceful assembly.

"Our group believes that no work should be going on for the pilot plant because it is causing environmental damage. The government has deliberately excluded the pilot plant from the Environmental Impact Study process, which is of real concern to us", she said.

YWYS commissioned a study showing unequivocally that the desalination plant was not needed and that more environmentally friendly and cheaper options already existed to secure Victoria's water supply. If the proposed plant goes ahead, it is to be built and operated by a private company that will control 40% of Melbourne's water supply and consumers will be hit with increased water bills to recoup the costs.

According to Bolch the police arrived on July 14 giving formal notification from the DSE that the road was no longer open for public access and after negotiations with YWYS, who made their intentions not to leave clear, the police called in extra enforcements. "The police instructed people to leave otherwise they would be trespassing and would be removed from site", she said. People refused to move and nine people will now likely face court.

The eviction of the YWYS picket is not the first confrontation between the state government and the local group over the desalination plant. On June 13, the Federal Court ordered YWYS pay costs for its failed court bid to stop work at the site. YWYS was hoping that a successful court challenge would give the group more time to garner public support and force a change in government policy.

However it is still unclear what is going to happen as neither the state nor the federal government have decided to invoke the order yet. "The fact that the government hasn't decided to invoke the order raises the question why they pursued the matter in first place. They know full well we don't have the funds to pay for enormous legal fees", she said.

Bolch told GLW that YWYS was planning to regroup, consider their options and look for a suitable location to continue the campaign.

"We anticipated this would happen [being evicted off the site]; we want to be where we can be visible, monitor the site and provide a focal point where the community can come and get information about the plant and our campaign against it", she said. For more information visit .

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