A proposed floating gas terminal in Western Port Bay is shaping up to be a key election issue in the Victorian seat of Flinders, where sitting MP Greg Hunt faces a challenge from independent Julia Banks.
- A proposal to build a gas terminal in Western Port Bay is awaiting state and federal approval
- A community meeting attracted hundreds of locals opposing the project
- Independent candidate Julia Banks criticised MP Greg Hunt, who is in Canberra for a health debate
More than 300 locals packed into a community hall in Balnarring last night to hear what their federal candidates were doing to halt plans for the terminal in Western Port Bay, south-east of Melbourne.
AGL wants to permanently moor a ship carrying liquified natural gas at Crib Point, turn the liquid natural gas (LNG) back into its gaseous state and pipe it 50 kilometres to Pakenham.
The environmental effects of the project are currently being examined at the state level.
In 2017, the State Government welcomed the proposal as an “exciting project”, which would “help secure the reliability of our gas supply”.
But ahead of last year’s state election, Victorian Planning Minister Richard Wynne promised the environmental effects of the terminal would face “rigorous analysis” before it could go ahead.
The pipeline would cut through private properties, Melbourne’s food bowl and internationally significant wetlands, home to one of the most important habitats for migratory wader birds in south-east Australia and other threatened species.
If it gets state approval, the project will also need to be ticked off at a federal level before it can go ahead.
Greg Hunt ‘consistently opposed’ to project
The project is opposed by all the major candidates putting their hand up to represent the federal electorate, currently held by Mr Hunt by a margin of over 7 per cent.
Candidates were given three minutes each to speak on the issue, but the meeting heard Mr Hunt was a last-minute cancellation due to commitments in Canberra.
Mr Hunt — also the Federal Health Minister — is in the capital for a National Press Club health debate with the Opposition’s Shadow Health Minister Catherine King today.
Victorian state Liberal MP Neale Burgess read a statement on Mr Hunt’s behalf.
“I have, I am and I will continue to be clearly, absolutely and unequivocally opposed to Labor’s AGL gas plant at Western Port,” Mr Burgess read to jeers and laughter from the crowd, before being allowed to go on.
“I’ve consistently opposed the re-industrialisation of Crib Point throughout my career and the view has not changed at all as regards to Labor’s AGL gas plant proposal for Crib Point.”
Former Liberal MP turned independent candidate Julia Banks took swipes at Mr Hunt for not being there and “blaming Labor” for the project.
Twitter James Hancock: Tonight’s #savewesternport protest meeting over AGL’s planned floating gas terminal told @GregHuntMP was a ‘last minute apology’.
“For me there is no more important issue than [to] save Western Port and I can tell you if I were the elected local member I wouldn’t be attending a Canberra fundraiser or whatever it is, if there was a meeting like this going on tonight,” she told the crowd.
She spruiked the influence she would have as an independent to keep the issue alive after the election, citing her record of raising the issue in Question Time with Environment Minister Melissa Price and tabling a petition in the dying days of Parliament.
‘Number one local issue’ on Mornington Peninsula
While the state’s Labor Government has been supportive of the project, its candidate for the seat Josh Sinclair is standing against it.
“It’s fair to say by the attendance in this room tonight that this is the number one local issue on the Mornington Peninsula right now,” he said.
“Any politician or aspiring member of Parliament must represent the views of their community — to do anything else is to be disingenuous to the role.
“I’m here to represent you, I’m not here to represent AGL.”
Mr Sinclair said if Labor was elected, the federal environment minister would be more likely to pick up the phone to him.
Greens candidate Nathan Lesslie and another independent candidate, Susie Beveridge, also addressed the meeting and voiced their opposition to AGL’s project.
Candidates for the United Australia Party, the Animal Justice Party and independent candidate Harry Dreger did not attend the event.
The ABC has contacted AGL for comment.
The company has previously argued the Hastings area is an ideal location — already home to a BlueScope steel plant, several fuel refineries, and roughly 100 ship movements every year — and when the terminal is no longer needed, it can simply be sailed away.
Mr Hunt’s office has been contacted for comment.