MAY 2007

Chapter 3

Policy setting

In the absence of adequate policies to protect Port Phillip Bay, government policy is being set by the business plans of a Corporation whose vested interest is to damage rather than protect this great natural asset

Whilst not being predominately a protected natural area Port Phillip Bay is, at 1,930 km2, one of the largest single parcels of cohesive Crown territory in Victoria.  There have been some welcome improvements in governmental environmental management, but there has been, apart from the State Environment Protection Policy on the Waters of Port Phillip Bay, and recent declarations of some very small areas as Marine National Parks and Sanctuaries, very little declaration of protection for the vast bulk of the Bay.

This large, important natural territory is thus left vulnerable to ad hoc claims for modification or use. Judgements on whether such uses are allowed are not made in the light of a pre-determined and well-settled highest and best long-term use for the area, but instead tend to be made very much on the grounds of expediency within a time-frame as short as one or two terms of a particular Government and under the influence of vested interests.

The Channel Deepening project is the most potentially devastating result of this relative policy vacuum. 

Victorian Planning Provisions, State Planning Policy Framework have not been adhered to

In the absence of a Policy framework specific to Port Phillip Bay, one must turn to the wider State environment policies:

There is a clear objective in the state policy planning framework “to assist the protection and, where possible, restoration of catchments, waterways, waterbodies, groundwater, and the marine environment”.  (15.01).

The Channel Deepening project in no way protects, nor does it restore the Port Phillip Bay marine environment, so is, in its entirety a breach of policy. 

Implementation of this policy is as follows:  “Decision-making by planning and responsible authorities must be consistent with any relevant requirements of State environment protection policies as varied from time to time (Waters of Victoria and specific catchment policies)”.

Decision-making by the POMC is not consistent with State environment protection policies.  In particular management and disposal of contaminated sediment is being managed under the federal guidelines, namely the National Ocean Disposal Guidelines.  This is a breach of policy. It also goes against the EES panel recommendations 2005.  The panel took the view “that, in line with the Assessment Guidelines, the proponent is required to comply with the Best Practice Environmental Management Guidelines for Dredging (BPEMGD) published by the EPA, 2001 and the National Ocean Disposal Guidelines (NODG) Commonwealth, 20021

“To comply with both of these guidelines it is obvious to the Panel it would be necessary for the proponent to compare all the relevant conditions and to assemble a body of practice that follows the more stringent requirement….The Panel makes it clear that this is very directive language, not supportive of the proponent’s view that the guidelines may be easily departed from”.  (See Chapter 5 of the submission for more details). 

State policy also aims: to protect and enhance the natural ecosystems and landscapes of the coastal and marine environment.
•    To ensure sustainable use of natural coastal resources.
•    To achieve development that provides an environmental, social and economic balance.
•    To recognise and enhance the community’s value of the coast.  (15.08).

The Channel Deepening project does nothing to ensure the sustainable use of coastal resources.  There is no balance in this project between economic, coastal and social values.  One tiny economic benefit for a Corporation is valued over both social and environmental values.  Furthermore economic benefits to large corporations are valued more highly than the economic survival of businesses dependant on the Bay for their livelihood. 

This lack of balance is well illustrated by the Risk Assessment Framework used by the Port of Melbourne Corporation. 

Different standards and criteria are applied to economic considerations than to the environment and social considerations.  If the shipping industry suffers more than one month’s stoppage this is rated as an ‘extreme’ consequence2 and as ‘moderate’ when it is for only one week. 

In contrast, for the various aspects of the environment and tourism permanent loss is required to get an extreme rating and effects that last for years are only rated as ‘moderate’.  Over 10 fatalities or major health impacts on over 1000 individuals are required to be assessed as ‘extreme’ while 1 fatality and/or 100 persons suffering major illnesses or injuries is considered ‘moderate’.

This lack of balance is a breach of policy. 

There is NO recognition of the Community’s value of the Coast in this proposal.  The Community is very clearly saying WE DO VALUE THE BAY, DO NOT DO THIS!   

Climate Change Policy, State Government and Channel Deepening

In 2004, the Victorian Government released its consultation paper “Adapting to Climate Change – Enhancing Victoria’s Capacity3”, and underpinning local area information booklets including “Climate Change in Port Phillip and Westernport4”. This paper outlined some of the challenges facing us a society, such as the increasing pressure on coastal infrastructure resulting from sea-level rise, greater risks of disease and death from climate change and the overarching driver – population increase.

Later in 2004 the Member for Frankston, Alistair Harkness MLA provided a package of information relating to this paper to a Blue Wedges supporter. His letter of 5th August 2004 stated:

“The Bracks Government is fighting global warming on the front foot and proactively planning to meet the challenge of climate change. You are no doubt aware how even small changes in climate have the potential to dramatically affect our local communities, situated as we are on a fragile peninsula”.  

The booklet, “Climate Change in Port Phillip and Westernport” provides some compelling information regarding our local region, including:

•    Winds are likely to intensify in coastal regions of Victoria, particularly in winter as a result of more intense low pressure systems.
•    Sea level rise of 70 to 550 mm by 2070 (8 to 80 mm per decade)

It is noteworthy that the predicted mean sea level rise for one decade approximates the predicted increase in spring tidal peaks that the Victorian Government’s channel deepening proposal will deliberately impose on the region during a 26 week program of rock removal at The Rip.  One must ask how this action fits with the Victorian Government’s desire to “... fight global warming on the front foot and proactively plan ...”. We can only see that one of the unpleasant, costly and threatening effects of global warming has been moved forward for Melburnians, and residents of the ‘fragile peninsula’, by ten years.

The Hon. John Thwaites, Minister for the Environment and Sustainability, also confirmed the serious and pressing issue of global warming and sea level rise for the Port Phillip region, in his speech to the 'Action Sweetwater Creek Group’ in Frankston on Tuesday 3rd August 2004. Mr Thwaites stated, "The science is absolutely clear, climate change is happening." and went on to outline that the CSIRO, Australia’s pre-eminent scientific and research organization, confirms that in our local region of Port Phillip and Westernport, we will experience temperature increases of 1-5 ºC by 2070, significant rise in mean sea levels, more frequent storms and increased run off, all of which will affect the way we live. Since that time the IPCC global warming and sea –level rise predictions have been revised upwards (2006) 

Our Environment Our Future July 2006

Environment Minister Mr. Thwaites opens this document with the statement:

“Six years ago we began the most comprehensive environmental reform agenda in Victoria’s history to restore and protect our natural assets. Our 13 marine national parks and 11 marine sanctuaries were a world first…..”

“Victorians’ ecological footprint ….is huge by international standards.  If everyone in the world lived like Victorians we would need four planets to sustain us”

The third action statement of Our Environment Our Future is ‘Adapting to the impacts of climate change’. Specifically we will focus on “improving the resilience of Victoria’s natural assets to cope with more bush fire risk, coastal erosion, flood control and storm water infrastructure”.

How, Mr Thwaites does Channel Deepening help improve the resilience of Port Phillip Bay to cope with Coastal erosion?  This of course is a rhetorical question.  It does the opposite. 

Melbourne 2030

The channel deepening proposal provides for foreseeable needs only to 2035 but the pressure for vessels of ever deeper draught seems inexorable. By 2035 another Victorian Government plan, Melbourne 2030, seeks to have made provision for a population increase of about 1,000,000 extra people. These two expansionist plans - Melbourne 2030 and Channel Deepening in Port Phillip - are obviously not unrelated. It is only a matter of time before the public realizes that the channel deepening project is at the very heart of Melbourne 2030, and in coastal areas will significantly advance the adverse impacts of global warming  - whilst facilitating and enhancing the very worst aspects of the plan.

Government policy has moved Australia well into the global market, and yet this proposal seeks to entrench petty interstate rivalries based on which State will get the largest share of international container trade.


There is a clear need for policy development in relation to Port Phillip Bay.  However, the channel deepening project is in clear breach of state environment protection policy.  State policy for the management of dredged material ought to have been followed.  It has not.  Also a balance between environmental, social and economic values is grossly lacking from the project.  These are serious breaches of policy. 

The project does nothing to enhance or protect the coastal or marine environment and leaves our coast and coastal communities more vulnerable to the threats of Climate Change. 

The project ought not to proceed. 

[1] Victorian Government publication –Department of Sustainability and Environment 2004

[2] Victorian Government publication –Department of Sustainability and Environment 2004

[3] Victorian Government publication –Department of Sustainability and Environment 2004

[4] Victorian Government publication –Department of Sustainability and Environment 2004

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