Last week, Western Victoria’s Corangamite Shire Council voted to formally oppose drilling in the Great Australian Bight (GAB). It is odd for a Victorian Council to be voting on a matter more than 1000 km away and in another State.
Victoria has a healthy oil and gas industry, over 1000 oil and gas wells have been drilled offshore Victoria over the last 60 years – with none of the negative impacts activist opponents of development portray as inevitable.
It would appear that certain members of the Council were influenced by Greenpeace’s recent, and highly exaggerated report, which claimed any potential spill in the GAB could impact areas of Victoria’s and New South Wales’ coastline. Naturally, these assertions do not stand up to scrutiny once put into context (more on that here). Based on claims put forth in this flawed report, Corangamite Shire Councillor Simon Illingworth aligned himself with the “Fight for the Bight Coalition,” backed by Greenpeace spin-off Sea Shephard—even going so far as to organise a rally against Bight exploration.
The Corangamite vote, and the councils that voted similarly, highlight an increasingly common issue; large, international environmental groups influencing local Australian politics using misinformation and dramatization.
In Corangamite, for example, this anti-fossil fuel sentiment is by no means endemic. In fact, the Corangamite Shire benefits enormously from the region’s abundant fossil fuel resources. As the Mayor noted when refusing to back the motion to oppose drilling, “we are still highly dependent on fossil fuel.” An observation that most certainly rings true for the Shire’s approximately 400 residents that work for its successful petrochemical industry.
There is also an element of hypocrisy in this decision. The Shire has decided to oppose offshore drilling in South Australia’s waters (over 1,000km away) despite it directly benefitting from offshore drilling in Victoria, especially since it is home to the Port Campbell gas hub, a key piece of the state’s energy infrastructure. What’s more, its own economic development plans emphasise fossil fuel development as a growth opportunity, from its Economic Development Strategy 2017-2021:
“There is significant natural gas infrastructure in Corangamite, including four major natural gas plants…Providing businesses with access to key services such as natural gas can also increase opportunities for economic development.”
Even in onshore Victoria, the Shire has traditionally opposed dramatic anti-fossil fuel positions, including the state’s moratorium on conventional gas exploration, noting in its 2016-2017 Annual Report:
“The State Government’s moratorium on conventional gas exploration (until 2020) needs to be lifted, with the gas industry making a valuable contribution to our local economy.”
Suffice to say, the Corangamite Shire’s Council may be happy to have its neighbours in South Australia make economically unsound policies but when it comes to its own constituents – economic and resource realism reigns supreme.
Of course, the local council is not the only entity guilty of this environmental double-speak. Greenpeace Asia Pacific, one of the most virulent crusaders against developing the Bight, cruises around South Australia’s waters powered by diesel (and using natural gas to cook its meals!).
Bottom Line: South Australians should be wary of anyone, councils or activist groups, asking them to make dramatic ideological policies that they themselves do not adhere to – or support – with their actions