In response to Mr Bernie McComb’s letter (Sentinel-Times 3/12/13) where he questioned me and my change in attitude toward the Desalination Plant I would like to share some facts which, over time, have been a part of the reasoning for my change of thinking.
After the Brack’s Government first announced that a desalination plant would be constructed in Bass Coast back in 2007, I was inundated with letters, phone calls and visits from my constituents.
Some were directly affected, some were in favour of the project but most were against having our beautiful coastline destroyed by the monstrosity we all thought the plant would be, as I was.
Thousands of names were submitted on a petition against the construction.
Questions were raised by me in Parliament on behalf of my constituents and I believed I represented the majority of them well.
I participated in protests.
I wrote letters and pounded the footpath for answers when I could not get any from the government of the day.
When the Liberal National Party Coalition came into government in 2010 we immediately requested reports on the desalination — the purpose, cost, reasoning as to its location, the ability of the people of Victoria to be able to afford the construction and further, afford the supply of the water.
By this time though, the Brack’s Government had committed the Victorian people to the project and a contract for construction had been signed, a construction company appointed.
I was extremely disappointed with the choice of location. I, as did all those who contacted me and were against the project, visualised a great monstrosity of a complex ruining our pristine coastline forever when other options seemed to be available at a much lesser cost to each and every Victoria.
I didn’t just resign myself to the fact it was going ahead, I kept hounding the stakeholders and kept them accountable — for everything. Cost, environmental issues, power supply matters, making sure people were being fairly compensated for property acquisitions etc, etc.
As the plant became a visible reality, I saw workers coming into all areas of Bass Coast. They were renting and buying homes, purchasing cars, spending their earnings on entertainment, food, petrol, services, retail and trade.
I became involved in the project as much as I could to ensure nothing was swept under the carpet.
I, at one time was banned from visiting the site because of the trouble I had caused in making sure my constituents were getting the very best they could from what I had openly and publicly noted as a poorly researched and located project.
Then the unions began giving to our communities.
They or their workers supported just about every fundraiser in our area. They donated goods, purchased raffle tickets, attended events.
We saw 1.3 million cubic metres of soil moved during the project which created huge dunes around the site. These dunes have now been planted out with native plants, creating a visual and environmentally balanced site, quite oblivious to the passer-by, both resident of Bass Coast and visitor to our area.
The roof of the complex has been planted out with around 26,000 square metres of plants creating a green roof, blending the whole project into our coastline. Something I am very pleased about but was not confident could be achieved at the beginning of the announcement the project would be undertaken.
There was occasionally trouble in the community with a few unruly workers from the project but they were quickly brought under control either by the employer, the union or the police.
Businesses right across the electorate were growing.
Business was booming for the majority of them.
Houses were being built.
The real estate industry as a whole surged forward with resounding success.
Some workers purchased houses they were going to keep at the end of their contract and use as a holiday house for their family, returning to continue to support our community, bringing their money back to support our economy.
New businesses opened up. Some catered for trades/services/retail products not previously available here and they are still operating today even though the majority of the desalination workers had left by this time last year.
Ancillary services improved as a direct consequence of the increase in population, such as medical services.
Not only did we notice an increase in patients presenting to the medical centres and hospitals, we also saw more doctors, nurses and associated workers move into the area. They are still here.
As the project progressed, my opinions of the project and the syndicate constructing the plant changed:
• Roads were re-instated by the syndicate
• Over $500,000 was contributed directly the community from the syndicate
• Over 90 per cent of the civil, mechanical and electrical components on the pipeline were procured from Victorian or Australian companies and 100 per cent of the civil component on the plant site procured from either Victoria or Australia.
• Many locals were employed either as one of the 10,500 workers at the site or by the increase in business as a direct consequence of the increased workforce living here
• Seven water delivery points have been constructed along the pipeline to supply water to local communities if and when required.
I was recently invited to be a part of the final planting of the Desalination Project’s ecological reserve which will open to the general public early next year for recreational activities including walking, riding both horses and bicycles, bird watching and other family orientated activities.
This reserve has been planted out with millions of indigenous plants, restoring the area back to its original state before the desalination construction, before mining, before farming.
The desalination plant was a Labor government initiative which, when the Coalition Government came into power was something we inherited and were unable to rescind.
I would still not agree to build such a plant here if the slate was wiped clean and we could start again but I have moved on and can appreciate the good which, aside from the purpose of the plant being built such as providing Melbourne and large rural areas with water, can see the benefits this project has brought to our area.
In closing yes, I am now a supporter of the desalination plant for the reasons above.
I understand that we could provide less fortunate countries with the expertise, the components and/or the funds to provide water for their people.
I am also proud that the Coalition Government worked hard with the desalination construction stakeholders to ensure we have a plant built with the least amount of intrusion on our people, wildlife and environment as economical as possible.
The costing of water supply is something we do not have control over but we will ensure the consumer will be charged the fairest water tariff we can.
Had the previous government taken more care, done more research and considered more options Victoria may not have had to have the desalination plant at all but we do have to work with what we have and move on the best way we can.
I thank Mr McComb for his interest in this matter and for asking me, albeit not directly, my opinions.
Hon Ken Smith MLA, Member for Bass