Public Inquiry snubs the public

Week One of the Channel Deepening Inquiry has drawn to a close with the public no nearer to understanding what its role is in this “Public” Inquiry. Bracks and Madden have payed lip service to public consultation in their cynical manipulation of the Terms of Reference which have turned the Inquiry into a farce. 



The Terms of Reference have excluded cross examination of experts, and allowed for those with areas of difference to work out their differences behind closed doors. Not that any expert witnesses have really expressed any significant dissent from one another as they blandly mouth well rehearsed presentations designed to elicit the minimum of interest in inquiry from the Inquiry.

As a result of this tactic, not much media reporting eventuated...well nothing much is revealed when no questions are allowed, so what can you expect? At least ABC did report that an engineering expert told the Inquiry that the Newport Power Station could be forced to stop operating because of sediment stirred up by the dredging. The costs of this undesirable outcome were not analyzed.

What WAS said, but not reported was the Port Corporation admitting that ongoing fracturing and erosion of rocks is still occurring at The Heads in the trial dredge area. Ongoing geological investigation is still underway…..which leads us to ask why we are having an Inquiry if investigations are still underway?   Well we would ask if we were allowed to ask questions.

The Herald Sun reported that PoMC’s first cab off the rank, economics expert Stephen Meyrick told the hearing that deepening the channel to allow passage of larger ships would boost trade efficiency. The HS also correctly reported that Mr. Meyrick conceded that leaving the channel untouched would not retard the projected growth in trade.

So….what’s this all about? What’s the hidden agenda? What’s the rush? If the Port’s own Economics expert has conceded that trade will be unaffected, what does it matter if Melbourne chooses for that trade to arrive in current sized vessels that will actually fit through The Heads without risking any more damage than has already occurred?  


By week’s end we had been told that questions to the Port Corporation's Expert witnesses should be in writing, typed, and presented by 9 am on the day of the Expert’s presentation – in other words before we had heard what the expert had to say. Granted we have had his prepared statement to read for the last 5 days, but questions do tend spring to mind when you actually hear the expert speaking, or faltering, over his “expert advice”. Bad luck if you want to seek clarification or dare to speak a question.


The PoMC even arranged that their expert on underwater capping of toxic substances was cozily ensconced in his home in the USA, and all we heard was his strong accent via the telephone assuring us that his 36 years in the US Army Corps of Engineers had given him untold experience and opportunities to travel the world studying dredging and capping projects. The closest he came to shocking anyone was his disclosure that we/he they? are still learning about sub aqueous capping of toxic substances, and the more we do it the more we/he/they will know. Hey! Gee!  Save the nervous looks PoMC, it’s not likely to rock the Inquiry members from their passivity.

Of course we couldn't ask whether this method of dumping toxicants underwater had ever occurred before in Australia. The answer, we gather is NO.

In fact has it ever been done anywhere in the world in a shallow semi-enclosed embayment like Port Phillip Bay, where water exchange times in that part of the Bay are approximately one year? Well it's a very good question but of course we were not able to ask it, and even if it was typed and in front of the Chairperson, the chances of him reading out all questions we have put were not good. At his discretion, he could decide that questions could be dismissed or handed to the PoMC for them to reply to in writing at their leisure.

Planning Panels administrative staff are providing exemplary and courteous service, however the response from the Inquiry to those members of the public who have dared to seek any level of interaction from the Inquiry has been unwelcoming. In fact Day Three ended with Blue Wedges attempting to seek a point of clarification. The Chairman refused, told us to wait until next week, said he had to go, stood up and left the room at 4 PM. Oh dear.

Little wonder then that the state government funded, City of Melbourne’s forthcoming Arts event: ‘Political Accountability. What is really going on?’ raises the hackles of those of us who are witnessing first hand the death of debate, or even the right to open your mouth, in Planning Panels Victoria. Ironic isn’t it that government is willing to fund a discussion about debate at Fed Square, whilst gagging real debate a few blocks away.

If you want to see the reality of politics and public "free speech" at work, come along to Planning Panels Victoria, 8 Nicholson St. East Melbourne for Week Two of the Channel Deepening Inquiry, starting at 10 am Monday 25th June. There you will get the chance to see just how farcical it is to insert the word “public” into the title of this Inquiry.



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