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VCAT on Westerfield - report by Gillian Collins

Freeway proponents' argument for clearing push prior to provision of net gain offsets:
"Their main argument was that granting this injunction would cost them millions of dollars. They did not challenge that the Incorporated Document said the offsets should be in place prior to construction. They did not produce a list of offsets that are being considered." (Gillian Collins)

Ed. The below was written by Gillian Collins. The only editorial changes are the use of subtitles and emphasis by formatting changes. Note that VCAT stands for Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal - an institution where Victorian laws are meant to be administered in a relatively low key and inexpensive way by 'members' who are usually not professionally legally trained.

"At the VCAT Directions hearing yesterday, the Frankston North Community Group, Inc., Pines Protectors, was represented by Felicity Millner of the Environment Defenders Office, and Barristers Julie Davis and Stephen Grant. Julie Davis presented the argument. And I was there.

The LMA, Southern Way, and AbiGroup had a total of 19 lawyers, solicitors, and helpers, including one Queens Council for LMA. Frankston City Council and Mornington Council each had one lawyer there. Neither supported our application, which was very disappointing.

Four against 19 - David and Goliath indeed.

At the hearing in the Administrative Division, Planning and Environment section, we asked for an Interim injunction to prevent AbiGroup from clearing the two remaining sections of the Peninsula Link right-of-way that still contain rare and endangered plant communities - the Pines Flora and Fauna Reserve and the Eastlink interchange Herb rich Grassy Wetlands - until the entire application could be heard. That may take up to six months.

Conservationists' Argument

"Our argument was fairly simple - the Incorporated Document in the Frankston and Mornington Planning Schemes that give permission for the project state that net gain offsets will be provided prior to the beginning of construction and works."

Ms Davis presented the evidence based on the documents and Ms Millner and Mr. Grant supported her with additional points. It took about an hour and 15 minutes.

The rest of the 4 hour hearing was taken up with the QC and other lawyers presenting the defence, plus a 10 minute break. Their affidavit from Geoff Rayner of LMA was only presented shortly before the hearing, and it was huge, so neither the Judge nor our representatives had had time to read it.

"During their testimony, they actually presented a new version of the Environment Management Plan. Quite extraordinary."

Freeway proponents' argument

"Their main argument was that granting this injunction would cost them millions of dollars. They did not challenge that the Incorporated Document said the offsets should be in place prior to construction. They did not produce a list of offsets that are being considered. They did produce a letter from Mark Winfield from DSE dated after the Incorporated Document saying they had one year to produce them. They created lots of date discussion that seemed without any relevance to the application."

We finished about 7:00pm with the Judge saying that she will have her decision on the interim injunction by close of day on Monday. The date for the regular appeal about the offsets will probably be set then."

Source:
Gillian Collins
Pines Protectors
0414 309 960

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