Farmers gather at Parliament House to protest against AusNet transmission line project
8th March, 2022
By Jane McNaughton, ABC, Vic Country Hour
Hundreds of farmers have rallied outside Parliament House in Melbourne to demand the Victorian government refuse to approve energy company AusNet’s proposed Western Victorian Transmission Network Project (WVTNP).
- More than 300 people gathered on the steps of Parliament House to protest against the WVTNP
- AusNet has proposed a corridor for a 190-kilometre electricity transmission line from Melbourne’s north-west to Bulgana, near Ararat
- A government spokesperson says the project is currently going through a full EES process
The controversial project proposes 500-kilovolt high-voltage transmission lines that, if installed above ground, could be 85 metres high and would transport renewable energy from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Melbourne.
Emma Muir, who farms at Myrniong east of Ballan, organised the protest via the Stop AusNet’s Towers lobby group.
“We’ve brought our tractors, we’ve brought our horses, fire trucks and our community to say this is no good and we want another solution,” she said.
“We’ve come to Melbourne today because the politicians won’t come to us.
“We’ve asked repeatedly for the Premier and for the Minister for Energy and Environment to meet with us and discuss this project.
“They’ve refused to come, so we’ve come here.”
‘Wake up, you dickheads’
Ballarat Potato Growers Association chairman Chris Stephens said the project put the region’s ability to produce food in jeopardy because of restrictions on machinery and irrigation near easements and under transmission lines.
“The WVTNP means the loss of over 1,000 hectares of the most productive land in Australia,” he said.
“The loss of our overall efficiency and profitability — we’re going to loose several highly productive industries.
“Wake up, you dickheads.
“Where is the justification in building 1960s technology infrastructure — a cheap and nasty transmission line? There is none.”
Mr Stephens said the region’s potato industry alone was worth $1.3 billion annually.
“If there is one thing I thought the pandemic would have made clear it’s that food doesn’t magically just appear on supermarket shelves or in the window at the drive-through,” he said.
“In Victoria we have some of the best dirt, the best climatic conditions, the cleanest water and the most dedicated farmers in the world.
“Why would we want to risk our food sovereignty or our ability to provide for ourselves?”
Consultation process slammed
Victorian Farmers Federation chief executive Jane Lovell said producers whose businesses would be affected by the transmission lines were an afterthought in the consultation process.
“It seems like a lot of decisions have been made and it doesn’t seem like farmers have actually been invited to the table to have their concerns heard,” she said.
But it’s not just farmers who oppose the project — tourism operators as well as people living in the region for the lifestyle also attended the rally.
Actor Stephen Curry lives in Gordon, 25 kilometres east of Ballarat, and says his home is in the corridor of the project.
“AusNet and the state government plan to knock down our entire property, including our house, and 3,000 native trees,” he said.
“And that’s all in the name of sustainability, which is rubbish — it’s all in the name of saving money.
Plan to keep fighting
Ms Muir said Stop AusNet’s Towers would rally again if the state government did not reject the WVTNP application.
“We’ll come back if we need to — we need to be heard and we need to be listened too,” she said.
“We in the regions want the people of Melbourne to have renewable energy, but it doesn’t have to be at our cost by ripping up our beautiful land.”
A government spokesperson said the Minister for Planning had determined that an Environmental Effects Statement (EES) was required and would assess the comparative effects of different feasible routes, alignments, design and operational alternatives for the project.
The effectiveness of the proposed measures to avoid, minimise and offset any environmental impacts will also be examined.
“This project is currently going through a full EES process — the most transparent and rigorous environmental and planning assessment framework available,” the spokesperson said.
“The EES process gives communities the chance have their say on the impacts of the projects and see the studies which inform the panel’s assessment.”
An AusNet spokesperson said the company fully understood the concern and uncertainty a project of this size could create for local communities and families.
“We are continuing to engage and consult with communities and landholders, right along the route,” they said.
“We are actively seeking their feedback and listening to their concerns.
“We have met with the Curry family, including Stephen and his father, and visited their property to discuss their concerns, as well as conduct a series of studies, including ecology and cultural heritage, on the land.”