BY NATALIE ZIRNGAST
MELBOURNE — Protesters continue to picket the construction of a gas pipeline which will run through Merri Creek, despite an Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) ruling on September 20 overturning a green ban placed on the site by the Australian Workers Union (AWU). Legislation passed under the Liberal Government's 1996 Workplace Relations Act is being used to force union members back to work.
Proposed to carry gas to a new power station in Campbellfield, the pipeline will run through rare and sensitive wetlands which are the habitat for 12 endangered species including the growling grass frog. Protected birds such as Latham's snipe and the white egret migrate to the wetlands from China and Japan. The route for the pipeline also goes through the National Estate-listed Craigieburn grasslands.
Condemning the IRC's decision to overturn the ban, AWU organiser Dick Gray said: "Anyone who feels strongly about an environmental or humanitarian issue should be able go to the unions, who must then be free to respond. This sort of law [the workplace relations act] makes workers slaves, and is a tool to run over environmental and community concerns."
Friends of Merri Creek spokesperson Max Sargent agrees: "It's fantastic to have union support for a critical environmental issue, and a crying shame that industrial relations laws are working against protecting part of the rarest ecosystem in Australia."
A community picket and blockade organised by Friends of the Earth and Friends of Merri Creek in place since August 17 delayed much of the construction until August 28, when police moved in to shift the protesters. The pipeline has now been built through the banks of the Merri Creek but is yet to be completed through the wetlands.
The protesters are hoping construction will be halted on October 15, after a ruling by Senator Robert Hill that construction must cease around Merri Creek for the growling grass frogs' spawning season which finishes in January. In financial trouble, the project may collapse entirely if delayed for that long.
The power station will use second-hand gas or diesel generators, emitting substantial greenhouse gases and increasing air pollution. The government claims the station is needed to increase power capacity in summer, but has not considered wind or solar power alternatives or building the pipeline along a nearby road, which would have little environmental impact.
Friends of the Earth member Michelle Braunstein, who has been at the site of the blockade, told Green Left Weekly: "This is about a long-term issue, not just a localised eco-system". To get involved call Tristy from Friends of the Earth on 0411 220 704 or Friends of the Merri Creek on (03) 9240 2394.