An unique combination of politicians, concerned grandmothers, mining magnates and environmental activists met on Thursday, June 28 at 12:30pm on the steps of Parliament House. Speakers were opposing new coal projects, including a brown coal export industry, which would triple Victoria's contribution to greenhouse gas pollution.
The star of the event was Twiggy Palmcock, representing "the forgotten voices of mining magnates". He argued that all coal is good coal, and offered to dig coal mines in a bowl shape for the "Greenie farmers from Bacchus Marsh". Mr Palmcock stated that "The real people who are suffering are honest toiling billionaires like me. These mining and carbon taxes are just tearing mining billionaire families apart."
Other (less satirical) speakers included Mr Don Nardella, MP for Melton, who was supporting the people of Bacchus March for "doing it really tough" in fighting Mantle Mining whose shares have gone "through the roof" because they have found coal.
One speaker, Katie, a resident of Bacchus Marsh, told the 200+ person crowd that "New coal in Victoria is unsustainable and unethical."
Environmental activist groups such as Quit Coal, Friends of the Earth, Environment Victoria, and Greenpeace staged the event. The newest co-sponsor was a group of concerned citizens from No New Coal Bacchus Marsh, "I am stepping outside of my comfort zone by being here", stated wheat and barley farmer Kate Tubbs, "I've just been looking into the health issues involved with coal dust and it's horrific."
Environment Victoria Campaign Director Mark Wakeham was quick to point out the irony that Energy technology company HRL has frozen plans for a $1.2 billion coal gasification plant at Morwell just after the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) decided HRL could build the plant to its preferred 600 megawatt capacity. The VCAT ruling reversed a 300MW restriction by the Environment Protection Authority, but insisted that the federal government must first buy out and close an old station in exchange.
HRL's project documents explain that the hybrid plant -- the first of its type in Australia at a commercial scale -- would run on synthetic gas derived from brown coal using new technology. The HRL design first dries out the brown coal, then gasifies it before mixing it with piped-in natural gas. Its greenhouse gas emissions would be 30 percent less than existing brown coal-fired power stations in Victoria's Latrobe Valley, about the same as a modern black coal plant or open-cycle gas-fired station.
The Federal and State governments has set up partial funding of HRL's proposed new coal power station. The total of $150 million will support HRL in using experimental technology to dry and export brown coal.
A Sydney Morning Herald article quotes Federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson stating the government's funding agreement with the company would stand until the end of June. That article also explains that Paul Welfare, general manager with HRL subsidiary Dual Gas, said the tribunal judgment "effectively put the future of the project in the hands of the Australian government...It is unclear what it means for the future of Victoria's Latrobe Valley."
In 2011 Australia's big four banks all announced that they were not involved in HRL's project. In October 2011 a number of international banks declared that they too would not finance the proposed power station, with HSBC indicating that HRL was too polluting for them to invest in.
No New Coal rally organiser made the point of the rally clear: "We're calling on Bacchus Marsh to be protected from coal mining, we're calling on Gippsland and the rest of our state to be protected from coal seam gas."
Funding for the project is not supported by Victorians -- A recent Newspoll survey in Victoria found that two-thirds of Victorian supported reallocating the $100 million earmarked for the HRL power station to support renewable energy.
The rally ended at 1:30 with a rather catchy chat: "Coal, don't dig it, leave it in the ground it's time to get with it." Only time will tell if the Baillieu government will join in the growing chorus.