There was an air of quiet celebration at Crossley today in Victoria’s southwest when community gathered to celebrate the successful anti fracking campaign – made famous by its familiar yellow triangle – which recently resulted in the State’s government ban on fracking statewide.
Although both Legislation and Regulations are still to be legally enacted for the ban on unconventional gas-mining and fracking which was announced in August, community gathered today at the same Crossley hall where the local campaign kicked off over two years ago, to acknowledge community achievement whilst pledging continued support for those still fighting the same battle interstate.
Achieving success through united and connected communities was the congratulatory message delivered by local leaders today at the Crossley meeting.
Hosted by the Warrnambool Unfrackabools the community meeting kicked off at 1pm in the St Brigids’ hall at Crossley, where their campaign began just over two years ago.
Warrnambool Unfrackabools secretary Patricia Nesbith said the group was formed through concerns about unconventional gas mining:
“The Warrnambool Unfrackabools were formed just to look at some of the consequences at unconventional gas mining, for our own information and to try and inform the community.”
The Unfrackabools’ information campaign was facts and figures driven says Ms Nesbith, to see how much damage might be caused, or the possible consequences of fracking:
“Towards last year we noticed a change in the community, people seemed better informed, and couldn’t wait to sign the petition’.
The Warrnambool Unfrackabools have also been present at parliamentary meetings to try and ensure the ban is complete Ms Nesbit says:
“The government hopes to have legislation in place by the end of this year.
“We want to make sure that legislation is bedded down, and also at any parliamentary meetings we have pushed that Regulations have to be there, put in place for everyone”.
Gillian Blair, secretary for the Sustainable Agriculture and Communities Alliance and fellow member of The Warrnambool Unfrackabools said at the Crossley meeting she was confident Legislation is currently being prepared by government:
“Legislation is being written. The Government right now is in the process of enacting legislation”.
When asked about the legal en action of Regulations which would carry through the Legislation, Ms Blair said the Alliance had received written confirmation from government the ban would go ahead:
“They said No Fracking. And they actually sent us a letter, it came from the Energy Minister and it said the threat to agriculture and all the money it brings into Victoria is too great to risk by allowing the gas industry to go ahead with land-based gas extraction. They actually said that in the letter”.
Coordinator for Victoria’s Lock The Gate campaign Ms Chloe Aldenhoeven said today at the Crossley meeting that the Andrews government decision was far-sighted and far-reaching:
“I think it one of the most significant pieces of legislation on this issue, and I think we can be incredibly proud of that.
“It also includes that moratorium on conventional gas exploration, which is really fantastic as we knew that the companies here were just trying to get a foot in the door with the conventional gas to try and frack in the future.”
In addressing the Crossley assembly Ms Aldenhoeven attributed campaign success to the connected communities campaign which fought at grassroots levels against fracking and unconventional gas mining:
“You should feel incredibly proud, it’s an amazing achievement.
“We have had messages of gratitude and congratulations from all over the world.”
“We should be incredibly proud of ourselves for the precedent that we have set for other states in Australia, and for countries and States around the world who are trying to fight this issue elsewhere.”
Ms Aldenhoeven first visited Crossley at the invitation of Gillian Blair and says local campaigners had plenty to be proud of:
“I had been over in Gippsland for a year already on the fracking campaign there, working with communities when Gillian rang, and said she wanted to hold a meeting here in the south west.
“I was blown over by the number of people who showed up at Crossley. I think we had about somewhere between 150 and 200 people at the first meet.”
Gillian Blair says the Sustainable Agriculture and Community Alliance became involved in the anti-fracking campaign which really took hold with community support:
“It has taken two years, nearly every week we have all been doing something.
“It’s just amazing how much, it’s all mainly been behind the scenes.
“We have been visiting MPs, and they’ve been setting up consultation groups around Victoria which we also attended.
“We were never really sure if we were being heard, one person we were talking to from a Government department more or less said to me “they will have these consultation groups but then they will still go ahead with it”.
Ms Blair says her initial concerns were through possible shale gas fracking near Warrnambool in the south west:
“I found out that there was going to be fracking and that there were all these exploratory licences , and in actual fact 50% of the whole of Australia is covered by license for fracking, for coal, gas, tight gas and shale gas.
“Here, it was to be shale gas which is worse, as they have to do a lot more fracking in shale.
“So I called a meeting and Jeremy Lee put it onto Radio National and I advertised it through all my contacts.
“Lots of people came, from places like Portland and Hamilton, and then all these little splinter groups then hived off and all worked in their own areas.
“We did letters to MPS, we did submissions to State and Federal parliament because the Federal parliament were holding a special investigation, the Bender report, named for a farmer who took his own life in despair.
“Then the double dissolution came through and it all went no further.
“But then the Victorian Government, who we also sent submissions to, they took it on board, and there were literally about 2000 submissions and letters that came in to the Victorian Government, from farmers, doctors, scientists, all sorts of people”.
Thomas Campbell was the Australian Green party candidate for the 2014 State Election candidate when fracking raised its ugly head locally, and through the Portland-based gasfieldfreeglenelg organisation supported the anti-fracking cause:
“How could you not fight against it”.
“We have to protect the environment from this incredibly toxic invasive industry, which pollutes water and destroys soil and contaminates the air and contributes to climate change.
“Everything that industry does is incredibly harmful to the local community, to the environment and to everything we should be fighting for.”
The Andrews government ban came as somewhat unexpected, Mr Campbell said because the Labor part had held an inquiry into the industry, and about half supported it and half didn’t.
“It could have swung either way.
“The day it (the ban announcement) came down you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face”.
Warrnambool councillor and former Mayor Kylie Gaston addressed today’s meeting at Crossley saying it was a day for community to celebrate:
“On August 30th the Labor State Government announced it was banning unconventional gas mining.
“More than 1.4 million hectares of the State has been under threat, from some form of gas mining, coal seam mining, shale gas, underground coal gasification.
“Credit must go to the Labor government for promising an Inquiry whilst in opposition and for following through when forming Government, and taking the Inquiry seriously enough to put this ban in place.”
Former Moyne Shire Council mayor, and Councillor Jim Doukas said local councils play an important role in supporting community, and that there is strength in numbers which keeps community voices strong:
“I think us I suppose, as minor politicians in local government, is about keeping the pressure on our fellow Councillors and to work with you the community to make sure we don’t drop the ball in this game.
“It’s very important to keep pressure on, and while there is pressure on the politicians will take note”.
Gillian Glair also praised the united community approach to the anti-fracking campaign:
“All sorts of people, across the community. This is the strength of the thing.
“This is a good achievement, a community achievement, and today is a day for celebration.
“I really feel what the Government done is really really courageous.They are actually looking at the future of water and food production and people’s health”.
Chloe Aldenhoven of Lock The Gate said it was the connected-community approach in the south west that contributed to the campaign’s success:
“It shows the strength of the movement , we were actually able to get exactly what we wanted out of the politicians,
“What we did here in Crossley was absolutely kick off a movement , of that courage across the south-west.
“ I think it was about a year and a half we went to 35 gas and frack-free communities here in the south west, which is absolutely huge.
“We had this amazing network of communities who were united in those values of protecting water, protecting our land, and protecting what we have for future generations, and people were prepared to set aside whatever political persuasion they had before, whatever conflicting issues we already had in our communities, to work together.
“I think this shows incredible maturity and incredible courage and it makes me so proud of everyone here.”
‘I think that is what democracy is about: it’s not about electing people to just go and work in parliament, it’s about us building the places we want to build together, and that absolutely happens with grassroots way we did it.”