Farmers Block AusNet

Farmers block AusNet from accessing properties in proposed transmission corridor

9th March, 2022

 By Jane McNaughton, ABC, Vic Country Hour


A group of police and contractors on a country road.
AusNet representatives called the police when the protesters blocked their path.(Supplied: Lindsay Cooke)

Dozens of farmers have gathered at a property north of Ballarat to block energy company AusNet’s attempts to conduct a investigation required for the proposed Western Victorian Transmission Network Project (WVTNP).

Key points:

  • Following protests in Melbourne and Creswick yesterday, farmers blockaded a property at Kingston today to protest AusNet’s transmission corridor plan
  • The property owners say they have no intention of letting the company on their land
  • Ausnet says it understands this is a “difficult time” for farmers

The controversial project would see 500-kilovolt high-voltage transmission lines that could be as high as 85 metres if they were to be installed above the ground.

The lines would transport renewable energy from Bulgana, north of Ararat, to Melbourne, but farmers are strongly opposed to the plan.

“The WVTNP means the loss of over 1,000 hectares of the most productive land in Australia,” Ballarat Potato Growers Association chairman Chris Stephens said.

The AusNet representatives were attending Ben and Louise Charleson’s sheep and cropping farm to conduct the ecological surveys required for the project to be approved by the state government Environment Effects Statement.

“We wanna make it pretty clear that we’re not going to let this project happen easily, if at all,” Mr Charleson said.

A man and a woman, looking angry as they stand in a paddock.
Ben and Louise Charleson called on neighbours to help them protest AusNet representatives.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

More than 40 utility vehicles, tractors and cars formed a blockade at the Kingston farm.

Police estimated at least 45 community members were present at Wednesday’s protest.

“It was a Mexican stand-off — the police were called by AusNet,” Mr Charleson said.

“There was no need for that — we’re not here to be violent, we’re just here to not allow access.

“If AusNet come back they’ll find the same thing — we’ll all band together again and do it all again.”

A farmer in a ute, smiling.
Newlyn mixed farmer Robert Lockhart’s property is also in the proposed transmission corridor.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

‘It has to be done’

Newlyn farmer Robert Lockhart’s property also lies in proposed corridor and he rushed to help block access to the Charleson’s farm when he heard AusNet were on site.

“I don’t think it’s fair we’ve had to drop tools,” he said.

“I work alone and if I’m not working my place, nothing happens — no irrigators get shifted, no sheep get checked.

“It has a detrimental affect on how my business operates, but it has to be done.

“If we sit by and let this happen we’re going to spend the next 40 years kicking ourselves thinking we should have gone harder.”

A farmer using a barbecue.
Creswick IGA supplied lunch, which Ms Aganetti-Fraser cooked for the protesters.(Supplied: Piss off AusNet)

Joee Aganetti-Fraser, who farms with her family between Mt Prospect and Dean, says it is important to protest against the project.

“I’d have the 60-acre terminal station put right out the front of my home,” she said.

“Then we’d have the towers running through our farm so we won’t be able to farm under them.

“I’m a fifth generation farmer and it would be hard to keep farming if that happens.

“It’s a smack in the face for myself and the fathers before us that have worked the land and got it to what it is today.”

People and farm equipment form a blockade outside a rural property.
Farmers flocked to the farm in Kingston, north of Ballarat, a day after a similar protest at Creswick.(Supplied: Lindsay Cooke)

AusNet representatives were met with a smaller group of farmers when they attempted to enter the Charleson’s other property at Creswick yesterday.

“We don’t want this project — it’s not suitable for this area, so therefore we won’t be allowing access, because it won’t be coming here,” Ms Charleson said.

An AusNet spokesperson said representatives decided that they could not safely access the property after discussing the situation with police.

“We understand this is a difficult time for the landholders at the property,” they said.

“The project thanks the landholders of the property for working constructively with our representatives.

“The project will work with the landholders to arrange access at another time.”

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