Quit Coal renews challenge to mining in Bacchus Marsh

Quit Coal rally, Victorian parliament house, June 28. Photo: Chris Peterson

About 200 people met on June 28 on the steps of Parliament House in Victoria to oppose new coal projects in the state.

Speakers spoke out against expanding the brown coal export industry, which would triple Victoria's contribution to greenhouse gas pollution.

The star of the event was “billionaire” Twiggy Palmcock, representing “the forgotten voices of mining magnates”.

He said all coal is good coal, and offered to dig coal mines in a bowl shape for the “Greenie farmers from Bacchus Marsh”.

Palmcock said, “the real people who are suffering are honest toiling billionaires like me. These mining and carbon taxes are just tearing mining billionaire families apart.”

Other less satirical speakers included Labor MP Don Nardella, who supported the people of Bacchus March for “doing it really tough” in their fight against Mantle Mining.

Bacchus March resident Katie Smoke said: “New coal in Victoria is unsustainable and unethical.”

The event was organised by Quit Coal, along with Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Environment Victoria.

The newest co-sponsor was a group of concerned citizens from No New Coal Bacchus Marsh, wheat and barley farmer Kate Tubbs said: “I am stepping outside of my comfort zone by being here. I've just been looking into the health issues involved with coal dust and it's horrific.”

Environment Victoria campaign director Mark Wakeham was quick to point out the irony that energy company HRL has frozen plans for a $1.2 billion coal gasification plant at Morwell just after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decided HRL could build the plant to its preferred 600 megawatt capacity.

The VCAT ruling reversed a 300MW restriction by the Environment Protection Authority, but insisted that the federal government must first buy out and close an old station in exchange.

HRL says the hybrid plant – the first of its type in Australia at a commercial scale – would run on synthetic gas derived from brown coal using new technology. The HRL design first dries out the brown coal, then gasifies it before mixing it with piped-in natural gas. Its greenhouse gas emissions would be 30% lower than existing brown coal-fired power stations in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley, about the same as a modern black coal plant or open-cycle gas-fired station.

The federal and state governments have set aside $150 million to fund HRL’s proposals. But HRL has yet to find a backer for the rest of the funds.
Australia’s big four banks have said they were not involved in HRL's project. Several international banks said last October that they too would not finance the proposed power station, with HSBC indicating that HRL was too polluting to invest in.

Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson said the government's funding agreement with the company would stand until the end of June, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on April 17.
Paul Welfare, general manager with HRL subsidiary Dual Gas, said the tribunal judgment "effectively put the future of the project in the hands of the Australian government … It is unclear what it means for the future of Victoria's Latrobe Valley."

An organiser of the No New Coal rally said Victorians were “calling [for] Bacchus Marsh to be protected from coal mining, we're calling on Gippsland and the rest of our state to be protected from coal seam gas.”

Funding for HRL's project is not supported by Victorians. A recent Newspoll survey in Victoria found that two-thirds of Victorian supported reallocating the $100 million earmarked for the HRL power station to support renewable energy.

After the rally, about 60 remaining activists occupied the offices of “clean coal” company Excergen in the city for more than an hour to try to get its executives to talk with the residents of Bacchus Marsh.