In a significant win for Victorian communities, on 30 August 2016 the Victorian Premier announced that the government will pass laws to implement a permanent ban on the exploration and development of all onshore unconventional gas in Victoria, including hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) and coal seam gas.
When legislation to give effect to this promise is passed, it will make Victoria the first jurisdiction in Australia to implement a permanent ban on the controversial and unpopular process of fracking. Plans to legislate to extend the current moratorium on the exploration and development of conventional onshore gas until 30 June 2020 were also announced.
Environmental Justice Australia congratulates the many Victorian local communities, supported by Lock the Gate and Friends of the Earth, who have all worked tirelessly to ensure their concerns about the unconventional gas industry in Victoria were heard and addressed. We are pleased to have played a part in supporting their efforts with our lawyers speaking at community meetings across Victoria over the last five years, informing Victorians of our concerns that the laws that govern fracking for coal seam gas in Victoria are out of date and do not meet public expectations for community and environmental protection.
With the legal framework being completely inadequate to protect communities, many communities chose to use peaceful civil disobedience to ensure their concerns were heard. We collaborated with CounterAct to publish the Legal Handbook for the Coal and Gas Movement, empowering and informing communities on their rights if they choose to participate in protests and other actions.
The permanent ban is part of the Victorian Government’s response to the Victorian Parliament’s Planning and Environment Committee’s report on the 2015 Parliamentary Inquiry into unconventional gas in Victoria.
As noted in that report, since 2012 over 60 communities in Gippsland and Western Victoria have declared themselves ‘gas field free’ and formed local action groups to ensure their concerns are heard. Local action groups were joined in their opposition to unconventional gas by tourism operators, small business and others. As the Committee noted: “The vast majority of submissions to the Committee express concerns about the potential risks an unconventional gas industry could pose to the Victorian environment. The concerns mainly centre on potential risks to Victoria’s prime agricultural land and to the water resources that support agriculture, as well as to Victoria’s tourism industry… These concerns are widespread, and shared by a broad cross‑section of the community including farmers and other landholders, environmental groups, landcare groups, medical professionals, hydrogeologists, tourism operators, small business owners, and local councils.” [page 66].
Environmental Justice Australia made a detailed submission and gave evidence at that Inquiry’s public hearing, submitting that the current regulatory regime is not sufficiently robust to protect communities and the environment. Our advice was that the moratorium on unconventional gas in Victoria should not be lifted unless laws are fixed to protect our communities. Our submission stated that the current legislative framework poses environmental risks, public health risks and the risk of land-use conflicts.
Current mining laws in Victoria remain seriously inadequate to protect the public from the risks of unconventional gas extraction. We welcome the Victorian Government’s commitment to legislate for a permanent ban on unconventional gas in Victoria as an important step to protect Victorian communities and the Victorian environment.