News | 11th Apr, 2012

Plan to head off protests on coal

Wednesday, 11 April 2012
Tom Arup, The Age

The Baillieu government is working on a long-term strategy to try to head off objections to its plans to develop Victoria's brown coal reserves.

The plan is outlined in documents – seen by The Age – being prepared by the government to sell new projects in the wake of climate change.

The documents say the plan will ''identify actions to address issues associated with the long-term development of coal from an economic, community and environmental perspective''.

The Coal Action (Strategic) Plan will focus on infrastructure needs and land-use planning for new coal projects.

It will also seek to address resource conflicts between communities and miners over water use, native vegetation and native title, and look at options for mine rehabilitation.

The documents, dubbed ''the coal narrative'', argue the government has a role in reducing barriers to investment in coal.

''Investment will flow when industry sees signs that solutions to issues such as export and transport infrastructure requirements can be found. Similarly, land-use and strategic planning and long-term resource protection need to happen now to secure future investment,'' they say.

Last month the Baillieu government confirmed it would tender for new brown coal allocations in the Latrobe Valley for export schemes and low-emission power projects.

Brown coal has become a target of environment groups and several local community campaigns have also emerged against exploration for brown coal near or on farming land, including at Bacchus Marsh and Deans Marsh.

The head of government agency Clean Coal Victoria, Charlie Speirs, said the strategic plan was due to be finished in June 2013.

''It is about understanding the resource, protecting the resource you are going to use from land-use conflict issues, and hopefully if you are not going to use an area that is currently bound up in land-use, not using it,'' he said.

A spokeswoman for Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said: ''Governments, departments and other authorities routinely plan and co-ordinate for future economic development in consultation with the community.

''The government will make a formal announcement on the coal allocation process in the near future.'

Environment Victoria's Mark Wakeham hit out at the coal plan, querying why there was not an equivalent plan to develop renewable energy.

Mayor of Latrobe Valley Council Ed Vermeulen said he was ''all in favour'' of a comprehensive approach to exploiting the large resource in the area. He said coal itself was not the problem, but rather its carbon emissions, which could be reduced by using modern technologies.

The narrative is understood to be part of a broader government public campaign to sell coal development. It says ''public-support for low-emissions coal projects is essential''.

''As part of action on climate change, many stakeholders expect to see a transition away from coal. This makes public support for future coal development difficult,'' it says.

Here what we have to say about this issue

Tell Premier Baillieu enough is enough. Say NO WAY to new coal and a coal export industry for Victoria 

Find out more about coal allocation in Victoria with CoalWatch