By Brad Farmer
GOLD COAST — Australia's favorite holiday beach, Surfers Paradise, could soon be named "Sewers Paradise" if protests against a $23 million ocean outfall pipeline are ignored.
Queensland environment minister Pat "Rubber Stamp" Comben and Gold Coast city Mayor Lex Bell were targets for the anger of about 6000 protesters on September 7 for their decision to allow the pumping of 60 million litres of sewage a day off the Southport seaway.
Trying to defend the $23 million pipeline, the politicians were booed and hissed by grannies and greenies, tourists and trawlermen, radicals and ratepayers who made up the largest protest rally in Gold Coast history.
Hero of the day, "ironman" superstar Trevor Hendy, was cheered as he compared the council's plans to the "stinky, foul and unhealthy" beach at Bondi and challenged protesters to maintain the rage to stop a carbon copy on the pristine beaches of the Gold Coast.
"Thousands of Australians holiday, or move to the Coast from Sydney and Melbourne to escape their polluted shores", Hendy said. "We have to stop it — it's as simple as that."
The lifeblood of the tourist capital's $5 billion investments lies in its glossy images of clean, golden beaches and suntanned surfers.
As the Great Sewage Debate hits the fan for the politicians, many locals fear it will be "sewer-cide" not seaside for the Gold Coast if decisive action is not taken shortly.
The controversy began in July after a Hinch program fuelled the sewerage row. The program claimed that murky water being spewed into the seaway was sewage. The Gold Coast city council responded by launching an expensive advertising campaign with a personal attack on Derryn Hinch, dismissing his claims as nothing more than a hunch.
But the "Wrong Derryn, Wrong" campaign, which cost ratepayers about $10,000, failed to cut the crap. The city council even took Hinch to the Broadcasting Tribunal to no avail.
The question "to sea or not to sea" gathered momentum, outraging the normally environmentally complacent Gold Coasters to stand their ground for the beaches they, and so many Australians, love.
A city-wide referendum held three years ago made it clear the overwhelming majority (68%) of residents opposed dumping sewage into the ocean. The result of the expensive referendum has been ignored by the state government and the council.
Only a month ago, a Sea-FM radio phone poll recorded 95% a no vote to the ocean pipeline. Even so, construction of the pipeline is forging ahead.
The "flushers and forgetters" who are unperturbed by the mass public outcry have also come under scientific criticism. Leading Brisbane scientist Greg Miller says "there is no question the discharge of effluent from the seaway threatens public health". Like many people, scientists believe land disposal is the sensible alternative.
But the councils' cost projection for land disposal have skyrocketed from $200 per ratepayer to $1000. The latter figure was released after the protest rally.
While local land for some 70 new golf courses has recently been given the nod, the council maintains there just isn't a suitable parcel of land behind the Gold Coast for land disposal of effluent.
The Groups Against Sewerage Pollution (GASP), People Opposed to Ocean Outfall (POOO) and Concerned Residents Against Pollution (CRAP) have raised effluent recycling as an alternative to both ocean dumping and land disposal.
Supporting this proposal, Michael Fraser, chair of the Beaudesert Shire council (just west of the Gold Coast), said that treated effluent "could be a valuable resource to farmers as irrigation on agricultural or pastoral land, if the councils can work together on this".