Dear Mr Broadbent,
RE: The preservation, purchase, and vision for the Holden Proving Grounds coastal bushlands
I write to you representing the SAVE THE HOLDEN BUSHLANDS alliance (auspiced under the South Gippsland Conservation Society Inc.), a large collective of environmental groups and citizens in the Western Port region, Cardinia and Bass Coast Shires concerned for the future of the Holden Proving Grounds coastal forest and determined to protect it.
Among the groups and entities supporting and assisting the SAVE THE HOLDEN BUSHLANDS campaign are The Victorian National Parks Association, the South Gippsland Conservation Society, Western Port Biosphere, the Save Westernport Discussion Group, Phillip Island Conservation Society, Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council, Healesville to Phillip Island Nature Link, National Trust (Bass Coast Branch), Cardinia Environment Coalition, Bass Coast Landcare, and a number of other such groups.
The Proving Ground site is a unique parcel of riparian West Gippsland coastal forest. At 877 hectares (2167 acres), the greater part of the site is well-preserved habitat protected by a high perimeter fence in a region which, though once densely forested, has now just remnant pockets.
As you are aware Mr Broadbent, protection and purchase of this parcel of coastal forest is supported and requested of the Victorian Government by The Bass Coast Council (May 20 Bass Coast Council Meeting: Resolution).
We are advised by GM Holden MD Kristian Aquilina (whom I know from my previous role on the Executive Team for the Victorian Automobile Chamber of Commerce) that an announcement of a sale is imminent.
We are appalled that GM Holden is pushing ahead with a sale without reference to the wishes of the community that showed it such loyalty for so long.
Surely there is someone in the Federal Government who wants to give GM Holden a blood nose?
Surely, given the $2.1 billion that GM gorged itself on in subsidies and grants from the public purse in the past two decades, and, worse, its reneging on a $275million Federal and State Government injection to commit to continuing manufacturing to 2022, surely the Federal Government can interrupt the sale of this important stand of coastal forest (at least half of which was Crown land when GM purchased the allotments) to allow a full environmental audit of this rare, and disappearing, riparian habitat and of the endangered species it supports.
Through you Mr Broadbent, we ask that you approach the Minister for The Environment, Minister Sussan Ley, step in and urgently ‘put the brakes’ on this.
We have asked – without success – for Victorian Minister Lily D’Ambrosio to respond to the clear wishes of the Bass Coast community and of those in the broader environment of Westernport, and to act on protection and purchase. Beyond platitudes, however, we have had no indication that the Victorian Government is to act.
Preservation and Protection:
We humbly ask that the Federal Government exert its powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, or whatever Act it can find, to ensure that the vegetation, landscape and endangered wildlife of this unique coastal bushland site be preserved for the Australian community.
For sale by GM-Holden, zoned farming and unprotected – without environmental covenants despite the value of the habitat it provides for endangered and at-risk flora and fauna – the native vegetation and wildlife it supports is in danger of being lost.
But this is the last, and largest, remaining coastal bushland in the whole of the Western Port region.
Research and extensive preservation activities conducted across the Proving Ground site (by Australian Ecosystems and Bass Coast Landcare 2005) identify unique flora and fauna habitat including riparian scrub, wet heathland and significant forest bog EVCs supporting rare and endangered wildlife including the Southern Brown Bandicoot, Swift Parrot, Eastern Pygmy Possum, Southern Toadlet, Powerful Owl, and Long Nosed Bandicoot among a long list of at-risk wildlife indigenous to the region (and, though once wide-spread, now confined and reliant on this habitat).
At the very least, we argue that the site should not be sold without a thorough survey of what is actually there (besides the identified and critically endangered Southern Brown Bandicoot, it has ‘type’ habitat for instance for Ledbeaters Possum, Swamp Skink and Growling Grass Frog).
It is also part of an important Biolink corridor of coastal bushland running parallel to the Bass River catchment from Cardinia Shire to the mouth of the Bass River. Contiguous with remnant forest in the Lang Lang region, this corridor of riparian bushland running through The Gurdies and Grantville Conservation Areas, is the only remaining significant stretch of forest cover in the Bass Coast and Western Port Region.
Given the identified ecological and habitat values in this site, and the loss of forest habitat across Victoria, we argue that this unique parcel of coastal bushland in this important forest corridor be preserved and protected – without delay – with environmental overlays and strict planning controls.
Worse, much of the site falls into an identified 'Extractive Industry Interest Area' (for sand mining) which the Victorian State Government is proposing to protect with new legislation (Strategic Extractive Resource Areas) to prevent farmers, communities and councils from objecting to new quarries or existing quarries in identified 'extractive interest areas'.
We are doubly appalled by this. We cannot contemplate losing this habitat to such vandalism. We must put the brakes on sale, and we must have this bushland protected.
Situated on the Bass Highway, the arterial into the Bass Coast Region and the single pipeline into one of Australia’s most-visited tourist attractions, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, the Holden Proving Ground site offers unparalleled opportunity as a ‘gateway’ to the region.
Significantly, Mr Broadbent, expert advice provided to our group indicates that there is a minimum of 100 ‘bio-units’ available in the Proving Ground site for native vegetation offsets. Which, we are advised, is valued at more than $10million in the current market.
We would have thought, that, given the necessity for purchase of native vegetation offsets for a number of projects under the Victorian Government’s ‘Big Build’ program – such as the Healesville/Koo Wee Rup duplication – purchase of the Proving Ground site if only to secure such offsets might be seen by the State Government as a ‘cost neutral’ exercise.
Further, as the purchase by GM-Holden in 1956 included Crown Allotments 89D and 89C (being more than 1000 acres of Crown Land), it makes sense to have this return to the national estate.
Given the loss of riparian habitat generally, the degradation of rivers, streams and of coastal areas, and the relatively small amount of such habitat in public ownership (there being a total area of Crown frontage in the state of around 100,000 hectares, a paltry 1.1 per cent of the total public land estate), a strong argument may be mounted for the return of this important part of the Bass River catchment and Western Port coastal habitat to public ownership.
We ask that Minister Ley now step in on behalf of the Federal Government to secure this important environmental asset and, in so doing, to secure the future for the endangered flora and fauna it supports.
Imagine what this site may become. Sitting right on the highway and with a number of permanent buildings, parking infrastructure and wide-span interior spaces, it is perfectly located to create a magnificent natural 'gateway' – a centre for tourism opening up the whole of the Bass Coast region and its wonderful natural assets.
Such a centre may be purposed for wildlife tourism, support a cultural and heritage centre for the Bunurong people, become a protected sanctuary for wildlife research and repopulation (expanding on the facilities and wildlife research capabilities of the world famous Phillip Island Nature Parks), and for a potential TAFE or University campus (north and south-bound V/Line bus services passing the door).
In providing such a gateway for tourists, it offers unique possibilities for building tourism across the region while simultaneously relieving traffic congestion into and around Phillip Island. Currently the great bulk of tourist traffic crosses the bridge into the traffic cul-de-sac that is the Island before being informed and introduced to the spectacular scenic and adventure opportunities that are available off the Island.
A ‘gateway’ to the region on that busy pipeline however, provides an opportunity to intercept, filter and fan tourists across the whole of the region (to the Bunurong Coastal Drive, Cape Patterson, Venus Bay, Tarwin, and beyond), and to introduce visitors to all that the region has to offer. Such a vision would boost tourism and jobs across the whole region; and, partnered, potentially be self-funding after establishment.
The critical factor, Mr Broadbent, is in securing the site. We must have a shot fired across the bows of GM Holden; we must put the brakes on sale. For that we humbly ask the urgent intervention of the Minister for the Environment, Minister Ley.
Can you help us sir?
All the best
SAVE THE HOLDEN BUSHLANDS