MAY 2007

Chapter 2

Community Consultation

The Process

Throughout the community consultation phase the Port of Melbourne Corporation has maintained a public relations campaign aimed at promoting their project rather than informed debate. Literature purporting to be information was in fact promotional literature for a Corporation’s business plan.

Public information sessions run by the Corporation have been poorly promoted and hence poorly attended. Blue Wedges received considerable feedback that the public found the Corporation’s ‘story board’ format and circling experts to be intimidating. Certainly this format does not encourage discussion amongst attendees, tending instead to pick off individuals and deal with their issues singly, rather than airing those concerns in a more open public forum.

Balanced debate

Despite considerable efforts from the community, government has remained steadfast in its refusal to examine the case for and against channel deepening. Much is said, even by government about the need for open, transparent government. One of the largest infrastructure projects ever considered for Victoria within one of our most precious ecosystems should be evaluated in broader terms than those proffered by the Corporation that wishes to undertake the project, and without the promotional spin provided by the PoMC.

Submission period

As with the first EES, the public has been required to respond in haste to the SEES, which was released on 21st March 2007, with closing date for submissions of 7th May 2007, a mere 6 weeks later.

The SEES is said to be the largest and most expensive of any undertaken in Victoria. Production of the SEES has taken approximately two years and taken total expenditure of studies to date to $114 million.

Requests for extensions to the submission period have been refused.

Our letter dated 1st April 2007 to Minister Madden requesting an extension to the submission period is at Attachment 2.1

A further letter requesting a meeting with Minister Madden dated 16th April 2007 is at Attachment 2.2

Minister Madden responded to both letters in a letter dated 30th April 2007.  Note Minister Madden does not offer to meet with us and suggests instead that issues of process raised in relation to the Panel Inquiry could be dealt with by the Inquiry.
See letter at Attachment 2.3

We also note Planning Minister Madden’s response to a question in Parliament from Sue Pennicuik MLC. Minister Madden said:
“I know that no matter how much time is allocated, it would still not be enough time for some parties. I am saddened by the fact that people may not be able to organise themselves in an appropriate time, but it is worth appreciating too that this has been a very lengthy process. If people have not pinpointed or nominated their relevant concerns by now or do not have the specific area of interest identified so that they can go to those reports and pinpoint whether the recommendations are appropriate or inappropriate in terms of their particular interest or expertise, then it is not likely that they are going to be able to communicate those appropriately at any stage.”1

We find Minister Madden’s response inappropriate and insulting.

The public is expected to assess the credibility of the SEES on the documents before us during the public exhibition period. Whilst no consideration was to be given to the community in their struggles to assimilate 15,000 pages of data, PoMC has been afforded the opportunity to continue collecting data for the SEES as revealed in the Port’s Notice to Mariners dated 2nd May 2007. Not only does the Notice outline that further studies to support the SEES will likely disrupt commercial operations, it also takes the opportunity to promote the proponent’s plan as ‘Victoria’s most significant infrastructure project’. This behaviour is the height of hypocrisy and a denial of natural justice.

See Notice to Mariners at Attachment 2.4

As was the case in the first EES, it seems that the SEES is still not complete and there might be, as was the case before, additional data which only came to light after considerable probing by the Panel and extensive cross examination of expert witnesses.

The SEES Document

Contrary to the opinion of Minister Madden it has been an almost impossible task to read the SEES in the allotted time. Nor is it adequate to do as he also suggested in his Hansard speech on 17th April 2007, to merely read a section which might be of particular interest. The document structure meant that the reader was required to move from Main volumes to various of the 10 Technical Appendices as an “area of interest” was read.  Aside from the practical issue of how the document was structured, it is not practical to study an ecosystem such as Port Phillip Bay with an infrastructure proposal imposed on it without reading widely on interactions between the various parts of the ecosystem. Minister Madden’s advice shows a lack of understanding about the complexity of the proposal and is ill conceived

Consistent with their document production for the EES, and in spite of considerable criticism from the Panel during the first Hearing, the Proponent has produced an SEES which is again extraordinarily difficult to move around. The CD and Hard Copy versions of the SEES documents are not compiled in a consistent way.  The CD documents consist of a ‘Main Volume’, a ‘Main Report’, ‘Main Report Appendices’ and ‘Main Report Attachments’; ‘Appendices’ and ‘Technical Appendices’, and a Summary with various titles.

The Hard Copy version of the SEES consists of ten ‘Volumes’, the first three of which consist of a subset of two volumes. Most of the hard copy documents are labelled as ‘Technical Appendices’, and the contents vary from the CD version. This mismatch makes it awkward to relate these two versions of the documents, and certainly makes efficient reading of the data difficult.

To add to these difficulties there is no topic index for the documents, something which the first EES Panel requested from Day One of the Hearings but waited for in vain for almost three months.

The Summary Brochure

We have serious concerns regarding the validity of the information provided to the public in the proponent’s SEES Summary Brochure.

Information provided in the summary document is inadequate and misleading, and should not be relied upon to form a view about their proposed Channel Deepening project.

The PoMC, government and indeed some media outlets have promoted the Summary document as a great way to access SEES information, when it is not. Many people who have not got the time to read the main documents run the risk of making a submission to the panel of inquiry based on inadequate or wrong information.

Page Three of the Summary document states that access to the Port of Melbourne is currently restricted to vessels of maximum draught of 11.6 m or 12.1 m at high tide and this is a restraint on larger ships. The implication is that large volumes of shipping will be turned away. The SEES Main Report Chapter 6 however shows that less than 5 per cent of ships entering and leaving the bay used tidal assistance in 2005-2006. The actual data suggests there is no urgent problem, and figures regularly touted by the Port in the media are wildly different to reality.

Pages Seven and Thirteen state the declared channel depths the PoMC wants in various locations: 17 metres for The Heads and 14.6 metres in the Yarra. But the Main Report shows actual channel depths proposed - the construction depths - are considerably deeper. The Great Ship Channel at The Heads would be deepened to over 19 metres, and the Yarra to over 16 metres. It is the construction depth that is most relevant to environmental assessment.

Page 8 of the Summary Report says that service infrastructure under the Yarra which obstructs channel deepening will be physically protected or decommissioned. In fact some services will have to be moved, involving a commercial agreement, as the Main Report notes. What’s more, the main trunk sewer from Melbourne’s eastern suburbs a 3.1 metre diameter pipe carrying perhaps 40% of Melbourne’s daily sewage volume to Werribee treatment plant currently sits 2.1 to 2.7 metres below the Yarra bed. It would have its cover reduced by at least one half if the Yarra is deepened and deeper draught vessels would be perilously close to the sewer.

Page Twenty four of the Summary Report states that contaminant concentrations in the water are not predicted to cause adverse ecological or human health effects. Again on Page Thirty two it states that extensive research by the PoMC has identified no health risk concerns for recreational swimmers or consumers of fish.

But the Human Health report predicts “minor” health risks to recreational swimmers as a result of the toxic plume.  We note that hundreds of thousands of people visit the northen bayside beaches every summer.  With the definition of ‘Minor’ being a including up to 10 people developing a major illness such as cancer, this is very different from “no human health risks”, especially for the people involved.

Interestingly, much of the Human Health Report is based on a report from maintenance dredging in the Yarra. This report appears not to be available for public scrutiny.

Table Two on page Twenty-eight of the Summary Report states that the Grey Nurse Shark (protected under State and Federal Environmental law) has never been reported in Port Phillip Bay. Visitors to Melbourne Museum however can see a set of Grey Nurse Shark jaws labelled as coming from Port Phillip Bay.

The Summary Report concludes that the channel deepening project is a crucial infrastructure development.  There has been no convincing evidence to back up this claim.  The opposite is in fact true.  The POMC tells us that trade through the Port of Melbourne is predicted to increase fourfold, irrespective of whether or not the Channel Deepening Project goes ahead.  A fourfold increase in trade without the project is good evidence that there is nothing crucial about this project.

The conclusion that the project it is “crucial” is not a detached observation for a document that purports to be setting some kind of objective appraisal.  It confirms our belief that the SEES is not an objective piece of research about the future of the Port, Melbourne or Port Phillip Bay and the jobs, lifestyles and species that rely on it – it is the subjective restricted appraisal undertaken by the Corporation who is staking a claim for control of the bay. 

Terms of Reference

A comparison between the 2004 and 2007 Panel Hearing Terms of Reference is stark.

The First Panel Hearing allowed extensive cross examination and its Terms of Reference outlined a commitment to an equitable fair process and the principles of Natural Justice.

There is no reference to Natural Justice in the 2007 Terms of Reference. We see this as a deliberate attempt by government to muzzle the public hearing process. Without the opportunity to question experts through cross examination, how else does our legal system establish the truth in any matter? If government can dismiss the importance of establishing the truth in this jurisdiction in what other jurisdictions might a commitment to truth be dismissed? The decision to remove the right to cross examine, to limit the length of the Hearing to one third of that undertaken for the EES, and to introduce the opportunity for the Panel to direct that particular or contentious issues might be managed via a discussion between submitters and/or experts suggests a commitment to closed communication rather than open dialogue.

In 2004 it was cross examination of the Port's "experts" which revealed the myriad flaws in the project, which the Panel reported in its 137 recommendations as to why the project should not proceed as designed. 

Now that the Channel Deepening Facilitation Bill has faded from view, having received such notoriety for its draconian line, the hard line Terms of Reference re-inforce public concern that the channel deepening project might be rammed through. This concern is now community wide, and includes concerns from some of Victoria’s most respected legal figures that the Terms of Reference are unacceptable and will not serve the pursuit of truth2.

It took 3 months of Hearings in 2004 for the Panel process to carefully review 7,000 pages of the Port's Business plan for the Bay and to reveal so many problems with it. A considerable amount of documentation was also produced during the Hearings in response to the process of the Inquiry.

The Port Corporation now states that the SEES is a completely new document, a "stand alone body of work" to the EES. Given it is double the size of the EES surely it deserves even closer scrutiny than the first EES?

The EES Panel members possessed specific and appropriate qualifications and expertise and also accumulated knowledge whilst conducting the first EES Panel. In line with the assurance given to our membership by government, it would have been appropriate for those Panel members to be reappointed to this SEES Inquiry. It seems that government chose not to appoint any of the former Panel members. This unfortunately suggests that government may now be less committed to the service of truth, logic and efficiency.

Access to information

Again in similar vein to its behaviour in 2004, the Port Corporation has been slow to respond to requests for assistance in obtaining additional information. Our requests to obtain further detail on the Sewer reinforcement under the Yarra have met with resistance, first from Melbourne Water and then from Mr. Nick Easy who promised a copy of plans referred to, but absent from the SEES, would be sent to Mr. Barry Robinson. As the submission period draws to a close we still await that vital piece of information.

It is indeed a bad omen for the future of open and accountable government, when major decisions with potentially irreversible effects on one of Victoria's major publicly owned natural assets are being undertaken in a climate of such opposition to an alternative view, and whilst so little time is made available for group and community deliberation and response.

[1] Victorian Hansard April 17th 2007

[2] The Age  and

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