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Abbeygroup bulldozers and police drive democracy from Westerfield

All photos in this story were by Rod Binnington. Some cropping and resizing was done by the editors.

People wanted to know who owned the Westerfield property. The government had said that it owned the property and the police had said last week that it was 99% likely that the government did, but that they could not be categorical. On Tuesday they would not even discuss the question. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to compulsory acquisition about who owns what. Two fantails came out of the trees and flew down towards the men and their machines in a dancing pattern, almost attacking the machines. The men standing by the machines ducked to avoid the tiny birds. Then the little birds returned to their trees and sat there, as if they had made their final statement. See also LMA (was SEITA) Bulldozers trash bushland from Westerfield to the Pines

Tuesday 28 September at Westerfield.

Protesters realised that this was going to be the big day because the Abbeygroup workers, who had previously talked and been friendly enough to the protesters, stopped looking at them, or glared and laughed at them. They lined up as if they were troops in a war and four big machines started rolling in.

Road blocks prevented access for protesters and observers initally

There were only about twenty protesters on site at 6.30 am, perhaps in part because the police had closed off Robinsons road at each end, before and after the entrance to Westerfield. This meant that people who wanted to come into the Westerfield driveway could not enter. The protesters managed to have the barricades moved so that people could still enter the Westerfield property driveway. More protesters arrived later.

Rumours of more and more police arriving

The protesters heard rumours from Robinsons Rd that more and more police were going to turn up. Eventually something around 100 police came through the bush in single file. There were enough of them to man the perimeters of the site. The main police coordinator gave the protesters ten minutes to get off the property. The police refused to answer questions and would only say that they were enforcing the trespassing law.

Compulsory aquisition - a mystery to most Australians

People wanted to know who owned the Westerfield property. The government had said that it owned the property and the police had said last week that it was 99% likely that the government did, but that they could not be categorical. On Tuesday they would not even discuss the question. There is a lot of confusion when it comes to compulsory acquisition about who owns what.

Police give protesters 10 minutes to get out

After the police gave the protesters ten minutes to get off the property or be prosecuted for trespassing, the protesters discussed what they could do. Gillian Collins, who had been the main organiser of the protests there, said that she was not going to stay to be arrested because she has relatives in the United States and that if a person has a criminal record, they are not allowed to enter the US. She then walked away.

Some people remained, however.

The police moved in and more people retreated.

Joyce and Simon, who owned the property now seized by the government to make a freeway, were among the last to leave. Some protesters withdrew sadly to watch events from behind the 2 meters high wire mesh security fence which had been made virtually impenetrable.

Carey Priest's heroic action and others arrested

Carey Priest, memorable for his politeness under pressure, led the next protest action by climbing a tree, where he remained for about two hours, despite the trees all around falling under Abbeygroup's bulldozers. People admired Carey's action very much, and he was arrested for his trouble. So was his girlfriend, Ellen. Five people were arrested in total: Carey, his girlfriend Ellen, then Neil and Mark Adams and another whose name is not available to

They were released within half an hour with bits of paper containing something vague in writing about how they would be prosecuted and fined $2,500 and or jailed if they returned to the property. Of course there wasn't anything to return to by the time they were released.

David vs Goliath Machines

The presence of the machines was overpowering. It felt like David and Goliath, with Goliath - the machines - winning. To remain and protest demanded courage from the humans, but other species were to suffer far more.

Just after the police had rolled in and lectured the protesters, five of those giant machines lined up to flatten the forest, and two courageous fantails came out of the trees and flew down towards the men and their machines in a dancing pattern, almost attacking the machines. The men standing by the machines ducked to avoid the tiny birds. Then the little birds returned to their trees and sat there, as if they had made their final statement.

A number of people observed that the wildlife carers employed by Abbeygroup who were meant to be rescuing animals during the destruction did not seem to know what they were doing. People yelled out to the lead wildlife carer, "Do you know what you are doing?" because it seemed so obvious that they were only there for the look of things.

The process of destruction was just so rapid. The bulldozers were operating in two areas. On the north side of the dam and the south east side, where the protesters had had their camp for months on Robinsons road. The protesters just stood and watched helplessly, thinking all kinds of thoughts.

Rod Binnington took this photograph of Simon standing by himself watching the destruction of a third of the grounds of his home which his wife and he had spent much of their lives protecting for the flora and fauna now dead or dying and dispossessed. Joyce knew every tiny plant in that property and all the birds. How bleak politics must seem them now. Although the house has been spared, a third of the property has gone. Most of the community doesn't even realise what is happening, let alone the extent of it.

Government has put itself above the law

If it can happen to Westerfield, it can happen to any of us.

Westerfield had everything going for it to be spared from the bulldozers. All the 'boxes' had been ticked, so the protest should have worked.

In a Hansard presentation by Greens Sue Pennicuick, 5 or 6 pages long, one was devoted to Westerfield. In this she described a way of dealing with the traffic flow that would not involve freeways. There were so many logical alternatives. Many people came up with them but they were just ignored.

Despite the so-called ticked boxes, the gov does whatever it likes. Although there was a VCAT hearing in progress, according to an ABC report, the government has claimed that the clearing work has been approved by the relevant bodies and is not subject to the VCAT hearings.

People say that Justin Madden is just a rubber stamp for the government which wants more and more people.

An observer said that, although they respected the way Gillian Collins went about organising the protests in a quiet and respectable way, they could not understand why she seemed to keep believing that what she was being told was the truth.

"The 'authorities' are laughing at us as they lie to us," he said.

Inadequate Mainstream reporting protects government from just repercussions

Something like this should be on radio and tv day and night, but the report about Westerfield on channel 10 was only a minute long. 10secs on Channel 9. They don't place importance on what the public should see. Who knows where they draw their priorities from?

A young girl there yesterday was about 20 y.o. and you could just hear her despair about the fact that all the boxes are ticked and she could see that and here she was seeing what the government could do and she was virtually saying and thinking, "What's the use of protesting?"

How long will it take her to come back from this, because it takes a lot of energy to protest against the abuse of power. Other people were also in despair. That is what the government and the growth lobby want. Poor mainstream press reporting protects the government from democratic reactions to its abuses of power.

One protester encouraged people to ring the 1300 number of Abbeygroup to tell them that there were no wildlife rescuers present when many of the trees came down. She did this to emphasise that the rhetoric of rehoming and rescuing displaced fauna is only words.

After a lot of the trees had come down, it started to rain. One of the foremen said, "Quick, get under the trees!" but there were only about two trees left standing. The protesters called out, "You would have had more trees before!"

The police should be able to refuse to enforce bad laws. Some were obviously sympathetic to the protesters willing to engage and listen to the protesters' reasons through the fence.


Our government cares nothing for environmental values, conservation or sustainability. Their intention to build the freeway by trashing of a significant remnant flora and fauna area is typical of their disregard for the law and decency. Their heavy handed tactics of the use of 100 mounted police against gentle activists, many of them older people, is a disgrace. The silence of the media means they are also compliant with the destruction. The freeway is about making the Peninsula area more accessible for property developers and they can continue with their Melbourne@5 million agenda! Our Brumby government is guilty of undemocratic actions and lawless vandalism.

This story (here, here and here) is particularly poignant because of its personal nature and its human scale. I have walked around the area now ruined when it was intact. I know the dam, I know the trees , the birds and the frogs. I imagine the little fantails described have now died and their chicks are buried in the debris. If this were a unique event it might be bearable but it is happening in different places in different ways every day all over Australia. A few years ago I was on a week's holiday in SE Queensland. While I was there within 5 days the small pond , treed island and a pair of nesting water birds which the house looked out on was bull dozed for a development. There is no reprieve or holiday from this destruction.

The terrible loss highlighted in this article is of course the loss of our rights, of our democracy. All those who stood up to the Abigroup and the police on Thursday are heroes. The man who climbed the tree and stayed for 2 hours deserve a medal. (Editor's emphasis)

The EPBC Act enables the Australian Government to join with the states and territories in providing a truly national scheme of environment and heritage protection and biodiversity conservation. The EPBC Act focuses Australian Government interests on the protection of matters of national environmental significance, with the states and territories having responsibility for matters of state and local significance.
The objectives of the EPBC Act are to:

* provide for the protection of the environment, especially matters of national environmental significance
* conserve Australian biodiversity
* provide a streamlined national environmental assessment and approvals process
* enhance the protection and management of important natural and cultural places
* promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of natural resources

Surely this property did have ticks in all the above boxes?
The VCAT conclusion could easily have decided that this bulldozing was illegal? Is that why our government acted with such haste, before their conclusion?
The ownership of the property was still not clear, and the property was still not transferred 100%, and had money passed over?
Another question? Who has the final authority over the police? Our tax-pay money is supporting the Victoria Police on our behalf, to protect us from having our rights violated and to uphold the law. The Victoria Police should have some independence over what they enforce, and the correctness of their orders?

Along the same lines as I have written before, if we the people can't hold our political representatives to account when they trample on our wishes to serve greedy, selfish vested interests as they have done at Westerfield, then we are no longer a democracy in practice. Someone must offer voters a real alternative to Brumby's misrule at the Victorian state elections to be held in November.

Otherwise this Government will be almost completely let off the hook for this outrage and will be free in coming years to commit further such crimes against Victorians and their natural environment.

Who better to stand against them for true justice and democracy than any of the heroes of Westerfield who featured in this magnificent article, for example Carey Priest, who remained heroically by himself in the trees for 2 hours, to name only one?

The only way we can hope to protect our way of life in the long term is to remove from office those who are so obviously not serving the people's interests. We may not be able to achieve that this year, but when, if not now, is a better time to start?

My query is about Westerfield, the historic property with habitat of state significance that was bulldozed yesterday in front of protesters to make way for the Peninsula Link, Frankston. I was not there, but I have heard reports of it, via emails and from the media. I am a wildlife advocate. I am concerned about the legality of the Victoria Police acting in such a heavy handed manner against mainly older people, gentle environmental protesters. Who has the ultimate right to engage the Police?
If the Police are meant to enforce the law and protect our democratic rights, then they are being violated by our Brumby government. This property is heritage listed and was a remnant rich biodiversity patch of land that should be protected, legally. The pond had just been filled and frogs were there, and birds were nesting. All this will be destroyed for a freeway that will have limited value in a few years due to peak oil.
According to the EPBC Act, this piece of land should be protected. Also, it was not 100% clear who actually owned the land. I heard it was compulsorily acquired from the owners who didn't want to see it go. I heard they haven't even been paid yet! (they were protesting too).
The VCAT hearing on this land was still in process, but our Brumby government ordered the bulldozers to go ahead anyway! Who ultimately has the power to use Police resources? What if the State government is acting unlawfully, as it seems to be the case here, surely the Victoria Police have some independence to assess the situation.
The Police should primarily be upholding the law and protecting the interests of the community, democratic and legal processes, surely.
The supreme court recently found that VicForests were logging Brown Mountain illegally.
Our governments should not be above the law, and be accountable. Does our Police force have any independence to assess in such cases whether they are being used, called upon, legally or not?

Website for Victoria Police "delivering a safer Victoria"?

Thank you Vivienne. Good idea! This may be a good way to get the message across. I urge others to write to the police and say if they are worried about how the police may be enforcing undemocratic and unreasonable laws.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist

The Age, 2 Oct

"CLAIMS that I promised or ordered works to be stopped on the Peninsula Link at the Westerfield site until a ruling was made on a VCAT submission (Letters, 30/9) are false. Work commenced in this area with all the necessary heritage and environmental approvals and permits in place following extensive planning, which included significant community input. The land was available for construction on June 1 but work was held off to further minimise environmental impacts and retain more bushland. We have reduced the construction footprint by about a quarter and resolved heritage matters following a legal appeal against the works earlier this year.

The VCAT submission is being firmly contested. Any delay to the project would be to the detriment of the many thousands of people in Frankston and along the Peninsula expecting this freeway to open in early 2013.

I have met with a number of concerned local people about this issue and we will continue to work with the community to deliver ongoing benefits for the region".

Tim Pallas, Minister for Roads and Ports, Melbourne


So he admitted that VCAT would not stop "work" on the Link! Don't let significant biodiversity habitats or heritage values get in the way of progress!
"Significant community input"? I wonder if the protesters, and the owners, were consulted? Very magnanimous of him that the delay is "detrimental" to "many thousands of people in Frankston and along the Peninsula"! Is he assuming that the public don't care for their history, heritage, their green wedges or flora and fauna?

Fortunately for our government their plans were in place while Peter Garrett was in charge of Environment and administering the EBPC act!

That so many hundreds of thousands, in cities such as Melbourne, live so far away from their workplaces and necessary amenities that it is necessary to spend hours in order to travel up top may many tens of kilometres each day in each direction on freeways, yet to be built at such horrific environmental and social cost as the freeway yet to be built over Westerfield, is surely testimony to the abysmal town planning record of the Victorian state Government and most Victorian councils. If they had done their job properly it should be possible for all but a few inhabitants of Melbourne to get to work and all essential amenities each day by, at most, a drive of a few kilometres or a short ride by public transport. Most should be able to make the necessary journey by walking or cycling.

Rather than continue with the destruction of our environment and with making us more dependent upon non-renewable fossil fuels, we should demand of our Governments that they begin, even if decades belatedly, the task of planning our cities to be livable.

A cost effective start would be for Government agencies to set up registers in each large urban region of people who have to travel long distance to and from work each day. Where it can be found that any two workers have to travel long distances to work near where the other lives, then, if the occupations require similar skill sets and have roughly equivalent work conditions, then, if both are interested, they could both see if they could negotiate conditions, acceptable to both, to swap jobs so that both work much closer to home and thereby avoid time-consuming ordeal of commuting.

If the Commonwealth Employment Service (CES) had not been abolished by the Howard Government, this could easily have been achieved by extending its charter. It would be much harder to accomplish this with the ad-hoc network of private employment agencies with which the Howard Government replaced the CES.

This is only one example of how governments could, so much more cost-effectively and equitably than private agencies, make our quality of life better if only the unproven dogma that has been undemocratically foisted upon us since the late 1970's that only the "Free Market", and not accountable, democratically elected governments, can efficiently meet people's needs, were ditched.

Of course cramming ever more people into our already dysfunctional cities with high population growth, driven mostly by immigration, will only make any already bad situation far worse, Any government, which ditches "Free Market" dogma in order to better meet the needs of its people, would also quickly end the high immigration program that has been imposed upon us in recent decades.