Anti-desalination plant campaigners rallied at the Victorian Labor Party conference in Melbourne on May 24. They were protesting against the state ALP government's construction of a large desalination plant at Wonthaggi on the South Gippsland coast.
The protesters stood alongside campaigners against genetically modified food crops and completely overshadowed a scattering of anti-abortion protesters at the conference.
The protest organisers, anti-desalination campaign group Your Water Your Say (YWYS), declared in a press statement that "Melbournians demand to know why the most expensive, environmentally damaging method of providing water to Melbourne has been chosen".
On May 16, the YWYS's initial legal challenge to the pilot plant was rejected by the Federal Court. The aim of the court action was to have the pilot plant included as part of the Environmental Effects Statement process, which will occur later this year. After the court case, YWYS remained positive. "The legal avenue was never going to stop the project as a whole; that can only be achieved by making Government's due diligence in choosing the best solution for Victoria, based on evidence. That can only be achieved through community anger", said the group's statement.
YWYS is organising a community protest assembly at the construction site, where test drilling is set to start soon. YWYS spokesperson Andrea Bolch told Green Left Weekly that "the assembly is staffed 24-7. We have a firm presence with a caravan, and community members donating equipment and piles of firewood every day." Bolch said the protesters plan to sit it out as long as it takes to stop the plant, "even if that's the next 18 months". In the meantime, they are taking the campaign into Melbourne, as the group has no intention of being labelled parochial.
The group is calling for "cheaper, less damaging options such as recycling, stormwater harvesting and implementation of demand reduction strategies". As the cost of desalination is expected to be passed on to domestic water bills, probably increasing them threefold, the YWYS statement demands to know "how much this plant will really cost and the real impact it will have on our water bills. $3.1 billion is the forecast 'lowest probable cost estimate', what is the real cost?
"On July 5 we are joining a huge climate change rally, culminating in forming a huge sign 'Climate Emergency'. We aim to have desalination a major part of that, as this desalination project is the most immediate threat to worsening climate change that we have an opportunity to stop."