Small Step – Big Change for Coal Country Council by Marg Thomas

Latrobe City

In the heartland of Victoria’s coal industry, Latrobe City Council agreed to support a grassroots petition to ban coal exploration and mining in the Mirboo North/Gippsland region. Council undertook to request the Minister for Energy and Resources, the Hon Lily D’Ambrosio, for increased community engagement and consultation on coal mining and exploration by the Victorian Government with the Latrobe community.

A packed Gallery saw a unanimous vote as a result of the Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North petition to stop Mantle Mining from exploring or mining for coal in Gippsland. The eloquent and heartfelt presentations of a team of six gave added weight to the 2,039 signature petition.

Anna Hall and Terry Parker both from Boolarra South, whose properties fall within the boundaries of Latrobe City, spoke to Council about their specific environmental concerns so often overlooked in this debate. Mr Parker explained how his enterprise, Brushtail Bush Foods, depends on a pristine environment to maintain an organic status.

On forty acres of natural bushland Ms Hall pointed out that this was a critical habitat for the unique Strzelecki Koala and other flora and fauna over which she keeps a watchful eye “Is the Council aware of the environmental significance of this area?”, she asked. “It seems a cruel fate that a mining company such as Mantle mining can be awarded all rights over the land owners who have a vested interest in the preservation of the land, and water”, Ms Hall argued.

On farming, beef producer, Fergus O’Connor appealed to Council with some surprising figures that emphasized the importance of agribusiness in the region and that robust evaluation on all levels by government is needed when considering any type of mining licences. “The agricultural sector in Victoria accounts for 38% of the state’s exports valued at $11.8 billion while employing over 190,000.” Marg Thomas, Lorraine Bull and Daniel Caffrey also presented compelling arguments Council couldn’t ignore.

The mining company came off second best with Councillor Darrel White, stating Council did not want to see Mantle Mining having any involvement going forward.

The State government awarded the four exploration licences without due consideration of the strong community opposition. The residents of Latrobe City are largely dependent on coal industry jobs, an industry which now faces structural decline and the inevitable transition to renewable energy. For this Council, this unprecedented action is a brave step in the right direction.