Tuesday 16 September 2014. A Westernport community group representative has headed to Switzerland today to present the Ramsar Convention Secretariat, the body in charge of international wetland treaties, with a letter outlining the imminent threat posed by the massive Port of Hastings development to the bay's extensive wetlands.
This is the first step in having Westernport Bay listed on the Montreux Record, a Ramsar register of internationally important wetland sites in which changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
"I've decided to take a stand and go to Switzerland to meet directly with the Ramsar Secretariat because the mega-port development poses an unacceptable risk to Westernport's vulnerable wetlands," said Karri Giles, President of the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Councils.
"Westernport is much more than a mega-port in waiting. It's home to thousands of protected bird species and other wildlife. And since our local member and federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is so far not listening to our concerns, let alone answering them, I've had no choice but to take this step.
"Despite claims that the Westernport development hasn't started, work has in fact already commenced. Over 100 bore holes have been drilled into the bay's seabed, putting migrating whales at risk, and the Victorian Government is locking in the assessment of the development under the state's fast-track Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act.
"We must remember that the whole world values this wetland, and expects the Australian Government to uphold its responsibility to protect it under the Ramsar Convention," Ms Giles concluded.
Under Australia's Ramsar wetland obligations, the Australian Government will now be asked to formally respond to the Ramsar Secretariat about the threat posed by the Westernport development to the bay's ecological character and values.
Westernport Bay is one of eleven Ramsar sites in the state and Victoria's largest. It regularly supports more than 10,000 migratory shorebirds and 10,000 waterfowl, including 32 bird species listed under the federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
"Greg Hunt has said on numerous occasions that the Port of Hastings development will have the most comprehensive assessment ever. But on the other hand, he's planning to hand over federal environmental assessment powers to the Victorian State Government under a flawed 'one-stop-shop' deal," said Simon Branigan, spokesperson for the Victorian National Parks Association.
Ariane Wilkinson, lawyer for Environmental Justice Australia, said her organisation had serious concerns that if the proposed Port of Hastings expansion were assessed only under the Victorian Major Transport Projects Facilitation Act, the impacts on the Ramsar site would not be adequately assessed.
"The purpose of the Act is to facilitate the development of major transport projects, not to protect the environment. It's an inappropriate piece of legislation for assessing such an environmentally risky project," she said.
Conservation and community groups are strongly opposed to the development of a new mega-port on Westernport Bay, and also question the need for a new port at all.
This includes questioning proposals to develop areas along the western shore line of Port Phillip Bay ('Bay West'), which also have significant Ramsar wetlands and conservation values.
- Karri Giles (in Switzerland), Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council, 0011 + 41 + 22 +
- Simon Branigan, Victorian National Parks Association, 0409 087 278 ? Ariane Wilkinson, Environmental Justice Australia, 0403 364 771 Download letter
- Joint Ramsar Secretariat Letter signed by nine community and environment groups at http://vnpa.org.au/page/publications/media-room/media-releases