As mentioned in my previous post, I attended a rally in Gympie on Wednesday night against the Qld Labor government’s planned mega-dam on the Mary River (usually known as the Traveston Dam or the Traveston Crossing Dam, although sometimes also the Mary River Dam or Mary Valley Dam).
The turnout at the hall at the Gympie Showgrounds was very impressive. All the seating was taken and there would have been well over 300 people there, which is pretty good on a Wednesday night. It was especially notable that the vast majority stayed throughout the very long list of 14 speakers, the last of whom didn’t conclude until after 9.30 – and there were still plenty staying after that to ask questions and get more information, so it didn’t really wind up until around 10.30pm (which for me was followed by a drive back to Brisbane, but them’s the breaks).
This is a large community of people who are clearly very determined to fight this proposal and who are clearly preparing themselves for a long battle. They already have an impressive array of people with technical expertise – engineering, financial, legal, environmental, etc – to help them counter the very shallow and shoddy information the government is putting forward to justify a decision which has clearly been driven first and foremost by political considerations.
It is interesting to consider why so many people were prepared to sit in a cold hall for three hours on a Wednesday night to listen to speeches – all of whom of course shared the same view that this dam is absurd.
One of the reasons seemed to be that people in this region are determined to get every single scrap of information they can that might assist in their fight. Even though all of the 14 speakers had similar things to say, most of us had some unique angle or ideas to bring to the matter. Normally people aren’t so concerned about the fine print at public rallies and forums, but as I was sitting up on the stage with all the other speakers during the rally, I could see many of the people in the audience vacuuming up every single idea and argument and looking for every extra possible thing that might be of use in this battle.
In addition, it is clear that people in the region already realise how important it is that they support each other in what could well be a very long, tough battle. People were determined to show how strong their resolve is, and the rally was as much about a show of strength and resolve to each other in the community, as it was a show of resistance to the government.
I made a few points in my speech, but the key one I wanted to emphasise was for people to support each other at local level and to be aware that they have a lot of others supporting them in the rest of South-East Queensland – support that will only continue to grow as more people become aware of the enormously destructive impact and exorbitant expense of damming the Mary River.
Fighting a government who is determined to go ahead with something no matter what is never easy. Peter Beattie’s already infamous quote –’that “this dam will be built, whether it’s feasible or not” – got a good airing on the night, partly for laughs but also as a reminder of the level of bloody-mindedness being brought to bear on these communities. It does help to have facts, truth, reason and justice on your side, but in politics this isn’t always enough.
However, governments rely on making people feel there is nothing they can do to stop something, or on trying to divide communities against each other. That’s why public displays of solidarity are important.
To have speakers from across the political spectrum voicing their support is important, as it makes it a non-partisan campaign which is less able to be hijacked by any one political party.
Speakers other than myself last night included Jeff Seeney, the Nationals’ state Deputy Leader, Cate Molloy the Labor MP for Noosa (who I expect will be booted out of her party one way of the other soon enough), Peter Wellington Independent MP for Maroochydore, Cr Jan Watt the Deputy Mayor of Cooloola Shire where the dam will be built, the Mayors of the neighbouring Shires of Noosa and Maroochydore, a Councillor from Tiaro Shire (which is downstream of the dam), as well as local candidates from the Nationals and even Family First. I was the only federal parliamentarian there, but people are very well aware that the federal Environment Minister has power which could be crucial on this issue.
I think the local MP for Gympie Elisa Roberts (Independent, although originally One Nation) had also been invited, but she had announced that day that she was retiring from politics because she can no longer stand with the personal abuse and “dirty” nature of it, which I presume is why she wasn’t there. She had been on record saying she was totally against the dam but the majority of locals supported it, but were too afraid to say so, which did seem a curious position to take.
There were differences among the speakers about what the best alternatives to the dam are. A number of speakers, including myself, emphasised the positives of going fully down the path of water recycling, and there is no doubt a lot of people are watching the referendum on using recycled water in Toowoomba on Saturday week, as it will be a key factor in future campaigns to adopt recycling elsewhere in the region. Others, such as the National Party speaker, suggested different sites for dams were still necessary.
I must admit I did find it a trifle galling to hear the Nationals speaking about the importance of protecting the lungfish when they were as keen as Labor to build the stupid Paradise dam which has been just as damaging to lungfish habitat. The only ‘plus’ in that is that it has made the lungfish even more endangered, increasing the arguments against this (or any other) dam on the Mary River.
However, as I said above, it is important that divisions do not develop amongst those against this dam, so the focus is kept well and truly where it belongs – primarily on the Qld government to reverse its absurd decision, and secondly on the federal government to make sure they use their powers under federal environment laws properly.
In one way, it is fortunate that the arguments against this specific dam at Traveston are so compelling and overwhelming on so many levels. It means there is room for divergence of views about the best alternatives without it translating into division locally. Put simply, there are more than enough arguments against this particular dam to suit every taste, with some spares left over.
ADDENDUM: This piece about dams in S-E Qld by Ian Mackay on Jennifer Marohasy’s blog is worth having a look at.