Why An Urban City In Melbourne Opposed A Queensland Mine

By  |  0 Comments

Cr Dick Gross – Deputy Mayor

Teaching Fellow in Climate Change at the University of Melbourne.

Recently, the Port Phillip City Council has joined other councils (including Randwick, Waverley, Inner West, Tweed Shire and Byron) across Australia in stating its opposition to the Adani coal mine.

Why did I support this resolution?  Surely such a move is not core business for a local council? Surely we should stick to our knitting which are the triple R of Roads, Rates and Rubbish?  And aren’t we merely fulfilling the aspersions cast over inner Melbourne Councils as there is a perception that the Adani coal mine is being held to ransom by inner-city elites with no vested interest in the outcome.

Adani is core business for my Council notwithstanding the huge distance from Port Phillip to the Galilee Basin.  Port Phillip is a small heritage piece of dirt on the coast stretching from Port Melbourne in the north to St Kilda and Elwood in the south.  It is a low.  Parts of this flood prone municipality barely rise above sea level.  We are incredibly vulnerable to future sea level rise caused by the emission of climate change gases.  Indeed, climate change is listed as one of the major threats to Port Phillip in our Council Plan.  Climate change is core business for this and every other low lying coastal council.

Low-lying places like Elwood know all too well the effects of storm surges and flooding. These crises will be exacerbated by climate change.  Elwood was a wet land which became a rubbish tip which became a popular suburb. The Elwood Canal is the final stage of the Elster Creek water catchment which flows without acknowledging municipal boundaries through four councils.  Flooding is part of our narrative.  At a recent community meeting, residents in Elwood and other parts of the catchment related their plight through their tears and tales of PTSD blighting their life after a recent flood event.  Water is not a trivial issue for us.

There is a discussion to be had about core business of councils and cost shifting.  We councils are suckers.  Often we are seduced, in the face of incompetence or negligence of the other tiers of government, into straying into their territory.  And my council has strayed into non-traditional fields like housing, life saving clubs, kindergartens and, in Victoria’s case, some aspects of aged care not covered by other states.  So the definition of core business for local government is fraught.  Years of voluntary cost and function shifting have muddied the definitional waters of what is core business for a council. 

Of course mitigation of climate change should be a Federal Government responsibility. Despite signing the Paris Agreement, it is clear that the federal Coalition Government has abdicated its responsibility to cut climate pollution (influenced by e.g. the Monash Forum).  I am constantly railing to my fellow councilors that mitigating climate change is not our job.  Our job is adaptation and that means building drains and sea walls.  But in the face of Federal Government negligence and incompetence, I have embraced the battle over Adani and see it as critical to the future of my coastal home.  If it were metallurgical coal rather than thermal coal, I might have hesitated.  But it is not and so the battle must be joined for the future of our suburbs. 

Since the removal of the carbon price, our national greenhouse emissions have risen for three consecutive years. And Australia’s most significant contribution to climate change is from the coal that we export to the world to burn. In 2016, emissions from Australian coal exports were over 1 billion tonnes of CO2, almost double our domestic emissions (560 million tonnes).

To keep global temperature increases below the targets 195 countries agreed to in the Paris Agreement, more than 90 percent of known, extractable coal reserves in Australia must stay in the ground.  This is tough to face but necessary.  There is money to be made in renewables and not flooding our coasts.  That is where we must travel.  And indeed I know of several renewable energy businesses in Port Phillip.  That is our future. 

The impacts of climate change from the mine and other sources will be felt across Australia: increased drought along the Murray-Darling river system, more intense bushfires in the Victorian high-country and coastal flooding in Port Phillip Bay outside my Council.

Port Phillip is striving to curtail our carbon emissions.  And so, along with several other councils, universities and banks, we joined a consortium bulk buying renewable wind energy.

Although our Council has championed climate change adaptation strategies, no amount of engineering and urban-planning can protect these places from coastal intrusion over the long-term if we continue failing to address the central drivers of climate change – mining and burning coal, oil and gas.

This makes Adani’s Carmichael coal mine and the Galilee Basin a no-brainer – the coal simply cannot be burned.   If the federal government will not protect its people, then municipal councils will have to take up the slack.  Port Phillip has joined the battle and I rejoice in that. 

Find us on FacebookFind us on FacebookFind us on FacebookFind us on Facebook