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Anger as state rejects calls to pause controversial gas project

The energy giant’s plan to put a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal at Crib Point in Western Port Bay and connect it to a 55-kilometre pipeline from the Mornington Peninsula to Pakenham has faced delays and concerns from environmental groups and residents, who are worried about the risk to the area’s ecologically significant wetlands.

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Mr Hunt, whose electorate of Flinders takes in the proposed project site, said he was dismayed by the decision.

“I am deeply disappointed at the Victorian government’s position and refusal to listen to the legitimate needs and expectations of the community and will continue to fight against the project,” he said.

SaveWesternport spokesperson Chris Atmore said residents had to cope with the extreme stress of coronavirus restrictions while reviewing documents and writing submissions.

Ms Atmore said Mr Wynne should use his discretionary powers in an unprecedented situation.

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“Every day the government is making decisions it has never had to make before. You can’t tell me his hands are tied.”

The government has exercised its discretion over other environmental projects during the pandemic. Environment Minister Lily D’Ambrosio has twice delayed a decision on how deeply the state will cut climate emissions over the next decade because of the economic upheaval created by the coronavirus crisis.

The government is also overdue in its response to the damning “state of the environment” report card and in making a decision on proposed national parks in the central west.

AGL is promoting its proposal – to import gas from elsewhere in Australia and overseas – as one way to increase supplies in Victoria and NSW and to drive down gas prices that have risen to historic highs of up to $10-12 a gigajoule in recent years.

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Globally, COVID-19 restrictions have sent the price of wholesale gas and LNG tumbling. But the drops have offered little reprieve for struggling manufacturers in the country’s south-east because the fall in wholesale prices has not flowed through to long-term contracts.

Environment Victoria community organiser Victor Komarovsky said AGL had been allowed nearly two years to compile its 11,000-page environmental effects statement (EES).

“These statements are highly technical and hard enough for communities to grapple with at the best of times, let alone in the midst of a pandemic,” he said.

Nick Witherow, principal lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia, said expecting residents to deal with the complexity, size and scope of the statement in current circumstances was at odds with the principles that guide the process, the Environment Effects Act.

“The current EES timetable was developed before Victoria escalated to stage four restrictions. It is outdated and unfair,” he said.

In response to these concerns, Mr Wynne said the EES process was thorough and he had already extended the Crib Point EES consultation period from 30 days to 40.

An AGL spokesperson said the company was committed to following the process the state government deemed necessary and it would work with the community to facilitate access to information.

AGL is due to update investors on Thursday at its full-year earnings announcement.

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