THE seismic survey of South Gippsland had to be halted temporarily last Saturday, June 27, while police investigated reports of an assault on one of the staff members associated with the survey.
According to police, several altercations between local people and staff of the Geological Survey of Victoria have occurred over recent weeks following the start to seismic testing in the area.
But following an incident last Saturday, police from Mirboo North have interviewed a 46 year old South Gippsland resident in relation to assault and also issued a warning to the public not to interfere with the survey.
They said several other incidents involving damage to the survey equipment, on Sunday, June 28, 2015 are also being investigated.
In the wake of the incidents, Sergeant John Cantwell of the Mirboo North Police Station reminded the community that it is an offence to interfere with the workers and their equipment and all reports will be investigated with the likelihood of court action.
“In addition to charges, any person damaging equipment may face the possibility of expensive restitution,” Sergeant Cantwell said.
“Police are asking South Gippsland residents to think before they act in this matter. Any protest actions should be by lawful means.
“Don’t let what you may consider to be a good motive, risk you getting a criminal conviction and financial loss,” he said.
Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources has acknowledged that police attended an incident on Saturday.
“The survey was suspended temporarily while the police took statements,” said the Executive Director of the department, Anthony Hurst,.
“The survey team reviewed its procedures to staff and public safety.”
The survey work has since recommences with the the first survey line now complete and the team working eastwards along the second line, which starts just south of Lang Lang.
“We recognise there is a lot of concern in the local community about onshore gas and we know some people have seen the survey team at work and have been worried that this is something to do with gas development. I just want to reassure them the current survey is not being done for commercial exploration purposes,” Mr Hurst said.
“This survey will give the Government crucial scientific information to use when making decisions about how to protect precious resources like groundwater. Its purpose is to help protect the environment, not to put it at risk.
“There is a hold on onshore gas exploration and a Parliamentary Inquiry underway and the Government has said it wants to make decisions based on good science.
“This survey is just one part of a range of scientific work that is being carried out to provide that good scientific advice.
“Unfortunately, we have seen some people damaging survey equipment, abusing survey staff and driving at speed through the survey area. The safety of the survey team and the public is our number one concern, so we are working closely with local police and stepping up security and surveillance along the survey route.
“If anyone has questions about the survey, I encourage them to call 136 186.”
A spokesperson for ‘People for a coal and CSG-free Mirboo North’, Marg Thomas, said the reported action had nothing to do with her group.
“We had a meeting with them to find out how they would go about conducting this survey because we were aware that there was some potential for conflict.”
Mrs Thomas said her group had worked with the department to try to minimise trouble but she was aware that there was considerable angst within the community, especially since the government issued an exploration licence to Mantle Mining for coal, not for onshore gas.
“Our role is to try to keep the community informed and we certainly don’t condone any violence or damage to property. It’s completely against what we stand for.
“But people here have become very edgy since the coal licence was issued.”
Mrs Thomas said ‘CSG Free Mirboo North’ had set up an information centre in Burchell Place where people could come and discuss their concerns.
“We appreciate that there are some very upset people who are quite concerned about the seismic testing but the idea is to gather knowledge about coal deposits and underground water but we shouldn’t respond like that.”
The geological survey will continue testing along a defined route, beside roadways in South Gippsland and the community is being encouraged to respect the work being done by Geological Survey staff.