Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Labor plan to wreck Port Phillip Bay

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The controversial plan to deepen Melbourne’s shipping channels in Port Phillip Bay has outraged locals and environmentalists alike. Despite the opposition that exists the State and Federal Labor governments plan to go ahead.

The channel deepening will involve dredging 23 million cubic metres of sand, clay and contaminated silt from the bay. Much of this waste will be dumped in the middle of the bay, seriously affecting the marine eco-system.

Melbourne is Australia’s busiest container port. It handles approximately 40 percent of the nation’s cargo. But an estimated 30 percent of ships cannot enter the bay because it is to shallow. The planned dredging would increase the depth from 11.6 metres to 14 metres.

The argument put up by the State and Federal governments, and the big business shipping companies, is that deepening the shipping channels is required in order to allowing much bigger ships to enter the docks. This will allegedly “boost our economy and create more jobs”.

The plan however ignores many environmental and public safety concerns. One of the major concerns is that contaminated material from the bottom of the bay will result in toxic pollution being washed up on surrounding beaches.

One local resident, named Debra, told The Socialist that “family beaches like McRae, Dromana and Safety Beach have only just gone back to their normal, clean condition after the small trial dredge back in 2005. All sorts of muck was washing up on the shore.” she said.

The effects of dredging the entire length of the shipping channels in Port Philip Bay on the surrounding beaches where tens of thousands of people spend their well earned holidays will be devastating.

Scientists have also said that damage will be caused to local fishing industries and to marine plants. Even the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garret, has been forced to admit that the dredging will also result in a permanent rise in the bays water level during high tide.

Some within the labour movement have supported the plan on the basis that it will create more jobs, especially on the water front. This may well be true but it will not be working people that will be the real winners from this plan. As a whole, ordinary people and the environment will come off second best.

The real winners here will be the shipping and transport companies. This plan is nothing more than an ongoing attempt by Federal and State governments to drive down shipping costs in order to increase the profits of big business.

It is just one more example in which the Labor Party are happy to ignore even the most basic measures for protecting the environment, and public safety in order to satisfy the requirements of their big business mates.

Australia’s shipping needs are already largely catered for by the other deeper water ports such as Adelaide, Brisbane and Sydney, and as such do not need Port Phillip to be dredged. There is also no reason why we can’t have massive investment into other environmentally friendly transport projects such as improving and expanding the national rail system.

This plan only goes to show how ridiculous the capitalist system really is. We have different sections of big business with competing interests demanding infrastructure to meet their needs. But there is no overall long-term plan that takes into account environmental and human needs. Only a democratic socialist system of planning can genuinely meet these requirements.

By Kirk Leonard


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