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Victoria: activists gather to protest against dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

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Wednesday 9 January 2008

Victoria: activists gather to protest against dredging of Port Phillip Bay


TONY EASTLEY: It's not unusual to see people out and about at night time enjoying the shores of Melbourne's Port Phillip Bay. But last night the crowds on some of the beaches were there to protest against the Victorian Government's decision to dredge the bay. 


Opponents of the project, which is due to begin next month, believe it will be an environmental disaster which will contaminate seafood, expose swimmers to toxic substances and destroy unique marine life.  


Reporter Daniel Hoare joined about 200 protesters holding a candlelight vigil at St Kilda.  


DANIEL HOARE: The protesters held candles and torches as they sat silently on a rock ledge next to St Kilda pier.  


The opponents of the dredging project say bigger ships are neither needed nor welcome in Port Phillip Bay. 


And they had a message for the new environment Minister Peter Garrett. 


PROTESTER: He's got to take a look at this project again. So please do everything you can. Let's sit in silence. 


DANIEL HOARE: The protesters say the $969 million plan to rip 23 million cubic tonnes of rock, sand and contaminated silt from the bay's shipping channels could ultimately prove to be an environmental disaster. 


PROTESTER 2: I just don't think the benefits of dredging the bay are anywhere near what the harms are going to be. 


PROTESTER 3: Yeah. I don't think an environmental study, as you say there is no precedent, an environmental study really can't give you the whole truth, you know, until it is too late. Yeah. 


PROTESTER 4: If you are a big business man and you want to make more money, yeah, then I can see why they want to have the bigger port and the bigger ships. 


PROTESTER 5: But if you are a dolphin… too bad. 


PROTESTER 4: Yeah, if you're a person who lives on the bay, I live at Rye and I can see the operators of the tourism down there are going to be out of business for years. 


PROTESTER 5: Great big dredger going through. Anybody can see it is going to damage the environment. It is just so obvious. 


DANIEL HOARE: Do you have a message for Peter Garrett who has signed off on this? 


PROTESTER 6: Oh, man. Yeah. I mean, I guess he approved it because of the economic situation. Having bigger ships will get more in. And I think it is time that we sort of gave the environment the edge over economics. 


DANIEL HOARE: The dredging project is aimed at opening Melbourne up to a new generation of container ships.  


The Port of Melbourne Corporation, which is overseeing the project, concedes the entrance to Port Phillip Bay will take up to 30 years to recover from the effects of dredging.  


But the corporation will operate under strict environmental conditions and it has even stumped up a $100-million environmental bond with the State Government. 


Dr Jo Samuel-King is from the Blue Wedges coalition, which organised last night's vigil. She's optimistic that, if nothing else, the protest sends a strong message. 


JO SAMUEL-KING: I think it is a message saying, Peter Garrett, you've really made a very bad decision - a decision that people are not happy with. We thought you were Environment Minister, a minister who was prepared to protect the environment and you are obviously not. 


DANIEL HOARE: Is there an argument that this is part of progress and it needs to be done and that ultimately the bay will settle back to where it was? 


JO SAMUEL-KING: No. This is not progress. This is damage. This is destruction. This is not 21st century thinking. 


TONY EASTLEY: Jo Samuel-King speaking there with Daniel Hoare. 


Dredging is expected to start on 1st the February and should be finished by the end of December 2009. 


A spokeswoman for the Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said it was not appropriate for him to comment in detail, because the matter is before the Federal Court tomorrow.