Rally in Gympie against Mary River dam

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.

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  1. 14 speakers and you managed to mention almost everyone but the Greens speaker?! You even mentioned Family First! What’s going on? You Democrats hate the Greens so much you can’t even acknowledge our existence?

  2. That’s a good point about the Greens and something i was wondering myself. Did the Greens speak at the meeting?

    Mind you, if you look at the Greens “No Dams” website and there is no mention of the many political tendencies that make up the no-dams movement. Their website makes it look as though the Mary river flows directly into the Franklin and the movement is being lead by Bob Brown. Hardly the regional Qld. comminity movement that has arisen through local leaderships and invited the likes of Bartlett and Brown to support them.

    The lead up to the federal election is going to be fascinating in Queensland and dams is going to be a key issue as, no doubt, the Greens and Democrats will try and use the momentum of their profiles on the state issue to propel them into the federal election.

    As I see it, there is one senate seat in seat in Qld that will be fought over between President Bartlett and the Greens. The senate voting system is something I still don’t fully comprehend, it seems that preferences are pretty crucial, the rise of Family First seems to be more a result of peculiar preference flows than broad support in the community. This senate position could go either way I reckon. Most people seem to think that Andrew has as much hope of winning the next election as Bronnwyn Bishop has of becoming P.M. However in a more serious way than my Bronny predictions, I believe Andrew has a good chance.

    Most of the very poor polling that has been done on the Democrats in Queensland and the Dems low vote in the last senate election represent the “drys” of the democrats, the boring economic rationalists and administrators. Neither Bartlett or the Natasha phenomenon were running in the last election.

    In Queensland, John Cherry (did I get his name right this time?) did not have anywhere near the profile of Bartlett, nore a long history of involvement in community groups to the extent at A.B.

    Andrew has allready announced his intention to run again and I notice that natasha is back on T.V. so I assume she also is beginning to build her campaign.

    This half senate election will be a very different thing for the Dems than the last one I suspect. I don’t see a revival of the Democrats but i can see AB and NSD getting elected again.

    So, back to the dams, in the state election, there is no doubt in my mind that any protest vote against the dam in the rural communities that are in the firing line will go towards the conservative parties, not the greens. However the Greens may consolidate a vote in their traditional power base simply because of the high profile of the campaign and, apparently deliberate, connections of Qld’s dam issues to Tasmania’s including visitations by Saint Bob.

    The Greens have real power in Labour’s marginal state electorates, that’s where there preferences will be enough to seriously threaten sitting members.

    In the Senate the Greens have a serious chance of picking up a seat if they expanded their powerbase just a little bit, which would mean campaigning on something outside of their traditional agenda to pick up new votes. Yet they are focusing their campaigning on Dams, the stereotypical Green issue and they are basing their campaigns in conservative rural electorates who are unlikely to change their vote to the Greens because it is perceived as city lefties, despite Saint Bob’s message that the Greens are the new rural party to replace the nationals. I can’t see it myself, especially in Queensland where through land clearing and wild rivers legislation, the Green movement has lined up as opponents of rural Queensland.

    My feeling is the Greens are simply offering more of the same and will struggle to expand their vote.

    Bartlett however has initiated the Aboriginal stolen wages inquiry and presumably will build a profile on this issue in a lead up to the election. Aborinal issues are high on the agenda of the Greens traditional support base and if AB builds a profile of integrity on these issues he may well steal votes from the Greens, especially since he also has a profile on dams and is more likely to pick up loose rural votes than the Greens because of his involvement in these campaigns.

    In the end politicians will always compete, such as the ommissions of AB and the Greens about each other in their representatons of local community agendas. But this is a good thing because it generates dynamic friction and political momentum for those grass roots agendas.

    By the way, some inside gossip, don’t tell anyone.
    A couple of months ago Andrew Bartlett and Drew Hutton were seen together in a private meeting in North Queensland.

    Perhaps bartlett was trying to broker Greens support for the Bronwyn Bishop move?

  3. I’m not from the area and was most shocked when 1 found out the sheer size of the proposed dam; 1.3 times the Sydney Harbour.
    It makes me really sad to think that such a beautiful area and prime farming country would be destroyed.
    The government needs to become more accountable and transparent with regards to decision making, particularly when it involves human lives.

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