People for the Planet: The Story of Environment Victoria

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When Victoria’s Little Desert was threatened in the late 1960s, an unlikely coalition was formed to fight for it. Bird watchers, duck shooters, scientists and foresters put aside their differences to protect the place they loved, and their struggle gave birth to the organisation we now know as Environment Victoria. In the 50 years since, Environment Victoria has been instrumental in placing environmental concerns at the centre of Victorian politics. From political intrigue and industrial espionage to mass protests and creative publicity stunts, People for the Planet reveals for the first time the inside story behind this relentless campaigning for a better world. Covering big achievements for our forests and rivers, and from recycling to renewable energy, it’s also a human story of resilience, determination, heartbreak and exhilaration.

Published for Environment Victoria Pty Ltd in 2019 by Hardie Grant Media, an imprint of Hardie Grant Publishing Hardie Grant Media (Melbourne) Building 1, 658 Church Street Richmond, Victoria 3121

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publishers and copyright holders. The moral rights of the author have been asserted. Copyright Š Environment Victoria A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the catalogue of the National Library of Australia at People for the Planet: The Story of Environment Victoria ISBN 9781743796320. Publishing management by Courtney Nicholls Concept by Greg Foyster and Mark Wakeham Text by Peter Barrett Edited by Jenny Lee and Lucy Siebert Design by Robert Bertagni Cover photo by James Thomas Printed in Australia by Ellikon Fine Printers (ISO14001 Environmentally Certified) on ecoStar 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper. Source fibre is FSC certified as recycled and processed chlorine-free. Authorised by Jono La Nauze, CEO, Environment Victoria, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton VIC 3053.

Environment Victoria is one of Australia’s leading environmental charities. We are independent and not for profit. We take on the biggest threats to our climate and environment. We inspire, empower and lead people and communities to take action, building power to solve the climate crisis, achieve a healthy environment and secure a fair and thriving Victoria. Environment Victoria acknowledges that we live and work on Aboriginal land and that this country was cared for over tens of thousands of years by Traditional Owners before colonisation. Our office is located on Wurundjeri land and we work across many Aboriginal nations. We pay our respects to Victoria’s traditional owners – past, present and future – who continue to care for this country, and we acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.

Level 2, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton VIC, 3053 Telephone (03) 9341 8100

Printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper


Environment Victoria will support and work towards a just and fair settlement or treaty between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.

Victorian Alps




Prologue The Snapes’ story 8 Environment Victoria 50 years timeline


CHAPTER 1 The Birth: 1969–1980 Profile: Dr Geoff Wescott, The next step

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CHAPTER 2 The Members: the 1980s Profile: Bernie Maguire, When lines blur

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CHAPTER 3 Evolution: the 1990s Profile: Linda Parlane, The fearsome forest campaigner

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CHAPTER 4 Rebuilding: the 2000s Profile: Michele Burton, The community engager

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CHAPTER 5 Independence and Power: the 2010s Profile: Mark Wakeham, The leader

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Conclusion Past and future: Jono La Nauze, 50 years with a 2-year-old 62 Thank you 64 Honour roll 65 Board members 66 Profile: Val Crohn, A lasting legacy 68

Welcome This book tells the story of people caring, actively committing and working in partnership for Victoria’s environment for 50 years. It does not try to tell every story, but through the stories of individual people and campaigns it gives a unique perspective on events that have contributed to the environment movement as a whole and to the creation of Environment Victoria as we know and love it today. The Board of Environment Victoria in 2019 is proud to represent those who have made tough, brave and smart decisions in the past, which has enabled Environment Victoria to thrive and make the impact it has and does, as well as the impact it will continue to have into the future. We recognise that the strength of our organisation comes from the people who power it. Our incredible team members who create and drive our campaigns. Our volunteers that enable us to reach further than we could alone. Our supporters that believe in and give voice to our vision. Our partners, members, and the grassroots groups that underpin Environment Victoria. Together, we can be proud of what we have achieved.


Emma Humann, Board President 2019

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Chapter 02 I The Members, 1980–1990

Rooftop vegie patch, Federation Square, Melbourne.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

The Snapes’ story CHAPTER 03

A male malleefowl (Leipoa ocellata) on his nest mound. The Kiata Lowan Sanctuary was reserved in 1955 to protect the bird, and later became part of Little Desert National Park.

8 Environment Victoria


One couple’s passion to protect the place they love.



rian and Diana Snape have always loved Australian nature. When they were in their early 30s, they’d take off from Melbourne in their little Renault most weekends and go bush. One of their favourite destinations was a semi-arid patch of scrub and trees in Victoria’s north-west called the Little Desert. “On a Friday night we’d have the car packed up and ready,” Brian recalls. “After I got home from work, we’d have a quick bite of dinner and head off at 7pm.” Just after midnight they’d roll in to the Kiata Lowan Sanctuary and set up their tent in the beam of the Renault’s headlights. “We’d wake up on Saturday morning to the beautiful bird calls of the Little Desert. It was just heaven.”

We’d wake up on Saturday morning to the beautiful bird calls of the Little Desert. It was just heaven.

A typical Little Desert weekend included driving to nearby waterholes, spotting plants and checking on a breeding pair of lowan (malleefowl) that local ranger, Keith Hateley, had dubbed Romeo and Juliet. “We used to discreetly check their mound,” Brian says. “On every visit, we’d go for a walk through the bush and have a

look at the nest. We saw Romeo and Juliet quite a few times over the years.” On Sunday afternoon, they’d pack up their tent, make the long drive back to Melbourne, and get ready for work on Monday. But then the couple learnt that their favourite spot was in trouble. It was the late 1960s, and the Minister for Agriculture, Sir William McDonald, wanted to subdivide the Little Desert for farming. When conservation groups began to build a resistance campaign, Brian and Diana joined in. The Little Desert was saved by the collective efforts of those conservationists. This campaign also gave birth to Environment Victoria, which has played a key role in putting environmental concerns at the centre of Victorian politics. So have Brian and Diana, who have supported the organisation with donations, encouragement and personal enthusiasm over five decades. Brian says, “I think they’re just an extraordinary, passionate, effective group.” This book provides a 50-year snapshot of Environment Victoria. Over the decades, the organisation has weathered hostile governments and politically motivated funding cuts; it has duelled with powerful corporate interests and been targeted by industrial espionage. There have been wins and losses. The environment is central to this story, but so are the people who have dedicated their lives to protecting and preserving it – people like Brian and Diana.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

50 years of protecting Victoria’s environment.



With local activists in East Gippsland, Environment Victoria secures water to get the Snowy River flowing again (previously more than 99 per cent of the Snowy’s headwaters were diverted for irrigation). 10 Environment Victoria


Environment Victoria begins household educational programs on energy consumption and waste, and later launches the first multicultural sustainability programs in Victoria.



Inspired by the fight to save the Little Desert, representatives of 76 diverse conservation groups create a new organisation as a united voice for Victoria’s environment. The Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV) is born.


Environment Victoria helps secure 169 billion litres of environmental flows to the Murray River and influences government to raise $227 million for river rehabilitation.




CCV publishes influential books and reports, including Seeds for Change on energy policy and Every Last Stick, building a case to protect the Grampians.

The Grampians National Park opens, following concerted campaigning by the CCV and partners.



Environment Victoria contributes to landmark reforms in the Victorian Water Act that secure environmental flows, allow water buy-backs and enshrine community consultation.

‘Walk Against Warming’, initiated by Environment Victoria, attracts 40,000 people, and later becomes an annual event attracting 50,000 each year.

Environment Victoria 50 years timeline


The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, a worldleading piece of legislation designed to protect the natural world advocated and shaped by the CCV, is passed through Parliament.



Campaign begins calling for one million homes to be more efficient with energy and water, which would later secure state energy efficiency targets and standards for rental properties.








The Alpine National Park – Victoria’s largest national park – is created after nearly two decades of campaigning by the VNPA, CCV and others.

With other environment groups, Environment Victoria secures the Murray-Darling Basin Plan with up to 3200 billion litres of water recovered for the river system.

Name changes to Environment Victoria, raising the organisation’s public profile and reflecting a broader range of campaigns.

Environment Victoria influences the outcome of the state election by targeting key marginal seats and making the environment a central issue for voters.

Environment Victoria leads conservation groups in each state to create Smogbusters, the first national community campaign to achieve clean air through sustainable transport.

After years of hard-fought campaigning by Environment Victoria, Hazelwood power station is closed, with $310 million in government transition funding allocated to the Latrobe Valley community.


Shell-Mobil abandons plans to import oil in large tankers through Crib Point in Western Port Bay, after persistent campaigning from Environment Victoria and local groups.


At the state election, Environment Victoria defends the state’s renewable energy targets and climate policies, and pressures the government to make big commitments for solar power and batteries. Environment Victoria 11

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria


The Birth: 1969–1980 How a watershed moment in Victoria’s history gave rise to a new, unified voice for the environment.

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Chapter 1 I The Birth: 1969–1980

Grass trees (Xanthorrhoea australis) are a common species in Little Desert National Park.



ocals called it the scrub: 700 square kilometres of semi-arid bushland running from Dimboola in Victoria’s north-west to the South Australian border. By the 1950s, most of the land around it in the Wimmera and Mallee had been cleared for farming, but not here. This place, the Little Desert, too dry and sandy to farm, was an island of intact bushland surrounded by wheat and sheep. Along its fringes, endangered malleefowl or lowan (Leipoa ocellata) scratched around in the red sand, building their remarkable, self-incubating, mound-shaped nests. In fact, the Little Desert was home to 600 species of native plants and 280 species of animals. Its biodiversity was paradoxically due to its poor soil and dry conditions, which forced greater ecological specialisation. For tens of thousands of years, it had been a hunting ground for the Wotjobaluk people, who came in search of kangaroos, emus and echidnas. But events in 1969 turned this place into a political battleground that forged complex allegiances, contributed to the awakening of a new ecological consciousness and, ultimately, marks a watershed in the history of Australia’s environmental movement. Known as the Little Desert dispute, it also gave birth to this organisation, Environment Victoria. The story begins with Sir William John Farquhar McDonald – grazier, Liberal politician and friend of Victoria’s Premier, Henry Bolte. McDonald owned properties on both sides of the

Victorian-South Australian border, including one that abutted the Little Desert. He was a man of his time. The bush was to be conquered, land to be developed and made useful, productive. He had seen in South Australia how science could transform poor native soil into pastureland using superphosphates and other minerals; indeed, he only had to walk along the fence line between the two states to see the stark contrast: messy stands of melaleuca and yellow gum arching over from Victoria, neatly ploughed lines of farmland in South Australia. “Why shouldn’t Victoria benefit from this kind of progress?”, he must have thought. McDonald was elected as the Member for Dundas in 1947. When he was elevated to cabinet as Minister of Lands in 1967, he began pushing in earnest to reclaim the Little Desert, a patch of Crown land just north of his own electorate. “A tall, strong man, Sir William projected an image of rural simplicity and toughness,” wrote Martin Foley in 1987. “In his own mind, he personified the best qualities of rugged rural individualism and it was this approach he sought to champion in his Ministerial duties.” In early 1968, McDonald announced his bold plan: the Little Desert Settlement Scheme, a land-clearing and subdivision program backed by the Australian Mutual Provident Society that promised to create 48 wheat farms from what he regarded as unproductive Crown land. McDonald was enthusiastic, but there was no shortage of opposition. Most notably, agricultural experts, economists and bureaucrats from Environment Victoria 13

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: An organistion is born: minutes of the first meeting for the Conservation Council of Victoria, 30 October 1969.

Known as the Little Desert dispute, it also gave birth to this organisation, Environment Victoria.

14 Environment Victoria

within his own government weren’t convinced it could work. Even worse, McDonald’s brash style got bureaucrats offside. He would often bypass appropriate channels and regularly chaired meetings of the Land Utilisation Advisory Council, when traditional etiquette dictated the minister restrict his involvement to presiding over the office Christmas party. For McDonald, this scheme had become personal. Conservationists were also against the scheme and they formed the Save Our Bushlands Action Committee, a coalition of several Melbournebased groups including the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria, the Natural Resources Conservation League and the Victorian National Parks Association. Mainstream community attitudes to conservation and the environment were slowly changing. Dr Libby Robin’s book about the dispute, Defending the Little Desert: The Rise of Ecological Consciousness in Australia, details the many factors that were beginning to shift people’s understanding of and relationship with nature. In the 1940s, pioneering amateur naturalists such as radio journalist and editor Crosbie Morrison promoted the contemplation of nature as a salve to the horrors of war; forests began to emerge as places for recreation, not just sources of timber; and, as the postwar boom began to slow in the 1960s, there was a growing realisation that our natural resources were finite. Then, in 1968, Apollo 8 beamed back stunning colour pictures of our blue Earth floating in the vast blackness of space. Suddenly, the planet looked fragile.

McDonald pressed on with his plan, although political resistance and opposition from within his own department forced him to scale it back to just 12 sheep farms. He also offered to increase the 945-hectare Little Desert National Park, established in 1968, to 35,300 hectares. For conservationists, though, it was all or nothing. Buoyed by the campaign’s momentum, 45 representatives from 27 conservation groups met on 24 April 1969 and resolved to form a new entity: an umbrella group with the gravitas and authority to communicate and negotiate with governments at all levels, providing a unified, persuasive voice for Victoria’s growing conservation movement, uniting bird watchers, naturalists, duck shooters and even a few foresters. Among the committee charged with giving the new entity a name and setting out its architecture was Dr Malcolm Calder, a University of Melbourne botanist in his 30s and an important figure among scientists fighting to save the Little Desert. Dr Calder, now 85, recalls that George Thompson of the Natural Resources Conservation League (NRCL) had been “a bit horrified” by McDonald’s proposal and took the lead in organising the opposition to it. Calder says Thompson also provided an important link to state and local governments, having previously chaired the Soil Conservation Authority, which was a government department. Joining Thompson on the committee were leading figures in the conservation movement, including Ros Garnet, a biochemist who was

Chapter 1 I The Birth: 1969–1980

secretary of the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA); H.G. “Budge” Bleakley, a member of the Native Plants Preservation Society and the VNPA; Lewis Godfrey, secretary of the NRCL; A.O. Lawrence of the Forests Commission; and Dewar Goode of the Australian Primary Producers Union. Gwynnyth Taylor, an experienced campaigner and VNPA president, chaired the committee. Over the following six months they met regularly to plan the new organisation’s aims, structure, finances and membership. Possible names considered included Conservation Federation of Victoria, Conservation Conference of Victoria and Nature Conservation Council of Victoria. Finally, they settled on the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV). On Thursday 30 October 1969, the provisional committee presented its report and new constitution to representatives from 76 conservation groups. Calder says that Budge Bleakley, a scientific manager with the Bryant & May match company, secured the venue, Brymay Hall in Richmond. “It was an evening meeting, as I recall – people were concerned about parking,” he laughs. “But it was an exciting time, it really was. And it was full of the idealism that all these other groups were prepared to participate.” By the meeting’s end, the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV) was up and running: a new body designed to present a single voice to government, other institutions and the press; to formulate and influence policies; and to act on conservation issues of concern to the community.

Meanwhile, the Little Desert dispute raged on, with the Save Our Bushlands Action Committee remaining the public face of the campaign. Malcolm Calder observes, “The Save Our Bushlands Action Committee was seen as separate from the Conservation Council of Victoria at the time because they were trying to play the political game of having a fiery group and a responsible coordinating group.” Save Our Bushlands drew up the Outline for a Bushlands Magna Carta, a document arguing for the protection of all Victoria’s remaining Crown lands. They organised two large, spirited public meetings, each attended by more than

1000 people. Among them were some who would go on to become long-serving members and supporters, including Diana and Brian Snape and the late Les Smith, who would go on to receive an Order of Australia for his service to the environment. “There was a lot of clapping and cheering,” Brian Snape recalls. He remembers a meeting at St Kilda’s Palais Theatre where speakers updated the crowd on the Little Desert campaign. Brian says, “It was one of those impassioned meetings where people who had a cause got the chance to get together and decide what to do next. You felt you were not a voice alone in the wilderness, that something was going to happen.” Bruce McGregor remembers reading about the Little Desert dispute as a teenager and attending a meeting about the issue at the Melbourne Town Hall with his father. “My father was interested in plants and animals and nature and so on but, like a lot of people those days, was relatively conservative, really – they weren’t thinking about advocating or being political, that’s not what people did,” he recalls. “But he and a lot of other people were outraged by the approach that was being taken, and that was an impressive thing.” The campaign taught young Bruce a lesson: “Yes, you can do something, and you’ve got to get out there and communicate, advocate,” he says. Campaigners kept the pressure up with letters to their local members of parliament and to newspapers such as The Age, which produced a bombshell article on 4 October 1969 implying that the McDonald family would

Left: Save Our Bushland Action Committee newsletter, May 1970, containing the Outline for a Bushlands Magna Carta.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Lewis Godfrey, the first Secretary of the Conservation Council of Victoria, giving a speech at the organisation’s 25th birthday.

benefit financially from a road to be constructed under the Little Desert Development Scheme. This scandal became a significant turning point in the campaign. The government lost a by-election in December 1969 in the green-wedge seat of Dandenong, and it was clear that the Little Desert issue had contributed to the 14 per cent swing. Three days later, the Little Desert Settlement Scheme was shelved forever. “In a final angry shot,” writes Martin Foley, “Sir William bemoaned the lost opportunity for ‘… the balanced development of the otherwise completely unproductive area …’” But the Little Desert had been saved, the conservationists had won and they had become a new political force. Reflecting on the campaign’s significance, Malcolm Calder says, “It was a watershed moment. It was a critical time for governments to realise that they couldn’t go on behaving as they had done in the past, in relation to land use. In the conservation world, this was a big change … It was a major breakthrough in the way in which we look at land.” In the May 1970 state election, Henry Bolte was returned with a slightly reduced majority. Tellingly, Sir William McDonald lost his seat. In his place, the younger, conservation-minded Bill Borthwick became Minister for Lands and immediately set about healing some of the government’s conservation-related wounds. He halted Crown land development until he could set up an independent Land Conservation Council (an astute name change from the pre-

16 Environment Victoria

It was a major breakthrough in the way in which we look at land.

election “Land Resources Council”), whose job was to audit all remaining Crown land and advise the government what to do with it. Borthwick also opened regular communication with the CCV and appointed two of its members to the 12-member land panel. With the government moving swiftly to draft and enact land conservation and environment protection bills, the environment movement needed skilled negotiators who understood how to contribute to policy, and who had the expertise to deal with bureaucrats and bureaucratic processes. The CCV was perfectly suited to the role.

The election of the moderate, conservationfriendly Rupert “Dick” Hamer as premier in 1972 further strengthened the CCV’s working relationship with government. Over the 1970s, the organisation’s work reflected Victorians’ increasing concerns about population growth, pollution and overdevelopment, particularly in marine environments such as Western Port Bay. For the first five years of its existence, the CCV relied on the Natural Resources Conservation League, occupying part of its Springvale offices and using its administrative services. To update its members on campaigns, the CCV produced regular newsletters and was allocated a few pages in the Resources League’s quarterly magazine, Natural Resources. Beginning as CCV News and later Point of View (the title ‘CONVIC’ was proposed but rejected), the articles today read as the products of polite society from another era, but provide fascinating insight into some of the issues of that time. For example, in a 1973 Natural Resources article, the CCV’s first president, A.O. Lawrence, observed that the organisation might not have survived without the administrative assistance of the NRCL. Finances remained tight, he wrote, though the state government had promised an annual grant of $2500 and agreed to match the CCV’s collections “dollar for dollar”. He also reported the CCV was carrying out conservation surveys on land proposed for future Melbourne suburbs and had lodged objections to a proposal to build a tourist road across the Baw Baw Plateau. In a 1976 article, CCV Director Reg Johnson

Chapter 1 I The Birth: 1969–1980

encouraged conservation groups to connect with people through the media, particularly through a new CCV spot on community radio. Johnson and his wife Kathleen, both members of the Bird Observers Club of Australia, had been instrumental in forming the coalition that fought the Little Desert campaign. Although city-based, Johnson helped connect urban and country conservationists by providing some of the capital required to build the Little Desert Lodge, one of Australia’s first eco-tourism ventures. The CCV also began producing its own Environment News specials, focusing on the growing concern with woodchipping. They included explanatory stories, news about the proposal to build a pulp mill in Orbost, and an exposé on the structure of the company involved, Australian Paper Mills. In 1979, the CCV published a landmark report titled Every Last Stick: The Future of the Grampians, which built a case for the creation of a national park there. The park eventually opened in 1984, and has proved to be a huge economic boon, creating hundreds of jobs and bringing tourist dollars to a struggling region. The CCV also supported the campaign for a national park in the state’s mountainous northeast. The Alpine National Park, created in 1989, is Victoria’s largest national park. Although nature conservation kickstarted the formation of the CCV, new battlefronts emerged in the 1970s. Globally, governments struggled with the problem of ‘stagflation’, which combined inflation with unemployment. A sharp increase in oil prices from 1973 exposed

developed nations’ dependence on imported oil and heightened demand for nuclear power. In Australia, there was pressure to expand uranium mining, leading to the emergence of an anti-uranium protest movement, beginning in Victoria. In response to the growing concern about issues such as the depletion of nonrenewable resources, the CCV published Seeds for Change, a book that highlighted how urban design could influence resource demand. CCV’s subsequent energy campaign was driven by members of its specialist Conservation of Urban Energy group, convened by Maurie Crow and including Seeds for Change co-authors Alan Pears, John Dick and Philip Sutton. By the mid- to late 1970s, politics was changing. Conservationists came in all political stripes, but their success to date had relied on personal connections with the dominant LiberalCountry Party governments. Libby Robin cites the example of Claude Austin, a foundation member of the Land Conservation Council who campaigned tirelessly on issues such as the Little Desert and Lower Glenelg national parks. But he also campaigned for the Liberal Party, played golf with Premier Bolte, and was president of the Melbourne Club; he was “at the heart of the Melbourne establishment’s ‘old boys’ network”, wrote Robin. In Victoria, many scientists, conservationists and bureaucrats also worked hand in hand with the forestry industry. But as the 1970s progressed, conservationists began to realise that the model of working with government and

Left: The CCV’s 1979 report Every Last Stick, which built a case for the Grampians National Park.

industry was less than perfect. The tension was clear in Richard and Val Routley’s 1973 book The Fight for the Forests, which criticised the forest services’ conflict of interest in being both protectors of the forest and facilitators of logging. Flashpoint conservation campaigns around Australia included opposition to sandmining in Queensland, limestone mining at the Colong Caves in New South Wales and the flooding of Lake Pedder in Tasmania. In some environment organisations, so-called radicals took over from traditional backroom negotiators. At the CCV too, many radicals were becoming impatient with the organisation’s more conservative members. The 1980s were approaching, and the organisation would have to adopt new ways of working.

Above: An early edition of the Conservation Council of Victoria newsletter.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria



Campaigner, former Director and life member

The next step It was the perfect job. That’s how Geoff Wescott felt when he heard there was an opportunity to head up the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV) in 1979. He had just returned to Australia from studying conservation at University College London, was in his mid-20s, and had been stirred by demonstrations against the flooding of Lake Pedder in Tasmania. But as soon as he started, he realised there was “a bit of a split” in the organisation. “The young activists, who were all my age group, had got impatient,” he recalls. “I think they just thought the CCV was a bit conservative – it wasn’t action-oriented, it wasn’t direct, it wasn’t doing any demos.” One of Wescott’s most important steps was to lobby for forests to become national parks. Up until then, he says, the government’s Land Conservation Council had “ticked off” all the easy national parks but avoided declaring forested areas. The CCV hadn’t challenged these decisions, but under Wescott, forests were put on the agenda. The CCV also contributed to the fight against plans for a nuclear power plant on French Island, drawing on Philip Sutton’s influential book Victoria’s Nuclear Countdown. When Alcoa proposed an aluminium smelter on Western Port Bay, it outraged the powerful, well-connected community of the nearby Mornington Peninsula. Alcoa switched its sights 18 Environment Victoria

to Portland, a port town in a Liberal electorate where an argument for local jobs could win more support. Other planning issues helped the council strengthen relationships with its members. Environmental lawyer Simon Molesworth successfully argued that the CCV’s constitution gave it automatic standing in planning appeals, so it could object to developments anywhere in the state on behalf of its members. For example, when a developer applied to subdivide important native wetlands at Taylors Lakes, the Macedon Ranges Conservation Society could fight the proposal through the CCV, despite not being a directly affected landowner. As the council’s director, Wescott usually signed the objection letter. “Somebody once rang me up and said, ‘Geez, you’re a bloody troublemaker, we’ve got 130 objections in the name of Geoffrey Wescott! Who are you?’” Looking back, Wescott can see why he was appointed director. “I had all the technical knowledge and expertise, but also I was probably at the right age and generation and culture to take the CCV the next step further.”

I was probably at the right age and generation and culture to take the CCV the next step further.

Conservation Council of Victoria achievements of the 1970s Conservation Council of Victoria • The (CCV) forms in 1969, uniting 76

the support of local conservation • With groups, launched the Urban Creeks

conservation groups from all over the state into a single, powerful voice for Victoria’s environment.

campaign, which persuaded urban waterways authorities such as the Dandenong Valley Authority and the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to abandon the policy of concreting urban creeks.

the back of the successful campaign • On to protect the Little Desert, lobbied successfully for the establishment of the Land Conservation Council, which protected public land and waterways. against the building • Campaigned of Loy Yang power station and the Thomson River Dam.

Conducted and published a major conservation survey of the Western Port region in 1974.

develop the Water Resources • Helped Bill in 1975, one of the world’s first pieces of legislation to recognise that sufficient water should be supplied to conserve flora and fauna.

and mapped remnant • Surveyed vegetation across Melbourne’s

overuse against dangerous pesticides.

• Published Seeds for Change:

Creatively Confronting the Energy Crisis in 1978, an ambitious examination of energy policy and sustainable urban living written by Maurie Crow, Alan Pears, Deborah White, Philip Sutton, Chris Mardon and John Dick, and published by Adrian Donkers.

suburbs, which in many cases resulted in protection.

• Supported the campaign for lead-free

Campaigned for more ecologically sensitive waterway management and published River Improvement in 1977.

• Published the report Every Last Stick:

campaigned to prevent a • Successfully nuclear power station and a proposed

petrol in 1979.

The Future of the Grampians in 1979, which built a case for the creation of a national park.

aluminium smelter being sited in Western Port Bay. Pumpkins, Poisons & • Published People in 1978 and campaigned on the

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria


The Members: the 1980s New national parks, an environmental hub and power through publishing.

Errinundra National Park was declared after a prolonged campaign by Victorian conservation groups. It preserves the largest remaining cool temperate rainforest in Victoria.

20 Environment Victoria

Chapter 2 I The Members: the 1980s



he view is grim. Instead of a thriving eucalyptus forest, it is a wasteland of charred stumps, bulldozer tracks and mud. It’s January 1984, and 23-year-old Janet Rice, a forests campaigner with the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV), is visiting a clear-felled logging coupe in East Gippsland. In recent weeks she has been working with activist Margaret Blakers on the environment movement’s response to an inquiry into Victoria’s timber industry. It is a complex, challenging and exciting project. But today is the first time Rice has seen the results of clear-felling with her own eyes. The loggers have used fire to burn everything left behind. “I still have a very strong recollection of that day,” she says, 35 years later, “and the sense of just how absolutely wasteful and criminal such destruction of our native forests was.” By the mid-1980s, the CCV’s involvement in anti-logging campaigns had intensified. The success of the Tasmanian Franklin Dam campaign in 1983 had shown that organised non-violent protest could achieve extraordinary outcomes for the environment. The CCV had played its part by providing a hub for the Tasmanian Wilderness Society and the ‘Vote for the Franklin’ campaign. After repeated office moves, the CCV officially opened the Environment Centre of Victoria at 285–287 Little Lonsdale Street in December 1982. Various activist groups moved into the centre, which was coordinated by Chris Day. “Chris’s vision was a flexible and dynamic space that could support campaigns and quickly respond to each

group’s changing needs,” says Linda Parlane, a former director of CCV. The top floor of the centre became the Franklin campaign headquarters during the blockade and the March 1983 election. Years later, Bob Brown acknowledged the centre’s contribution in a newsletter. “The Environment Centre of Victoria played a vital role in saving the Franklin River,” he was quoted as saying. “The campaign would have been severely hampered at the most critical time if it weren’t for the office space, resources and facilities quickly made available to us by the Centre.” Publishing had always been important to the CCV, but the focus had mostly been on reports for government bureaucrats and newsletters for members. The runaway success of Seeds for Change had shown there was a strong appetite in the wider community for visionary information on delivering a sustainable society, and the CCV increased its energies accordingly. By 1980, almost 10,000 copies of Seeds for Change had been sold, which not only recouped costs of $4000, but returned $2000 profit. It also sold 10,000 copies of Dallas Twigg’s Pumpkins, Poisons and People, a 40-page booklet cataloguing the dangers of using insecticides and other chemicals on home gardens. Philip Sutton’s 1980 book Victoria’s Nuclear Countdown, which stemmed from work he had begun at the CCV, outlined controversial and almost clandestine plans the state had to introduce nuclear power. With anti-uranium activists heavily committed at the time to trying to stop new uranium mines elsewhere in the Environment Victoria 21

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

country, Sutton recalls it was initially difficult to get traction on the issue. But, after spending six months speaking individually with about 50 key activists, eventually a campaign took off. A rally was organised, and the anti-nuclear power movement blossomed from there. “Legislation was passed in Victoria in 1983 that bans nuclear power and uranium mining and it’s the direct outcome of this campaign,” he says.

Right: The Environment Centre of Victoria opened in December 1982, managed by the Conservation Council of Victoria.

The Environment Centre of Victoria played a vital role in saving the Franklin River.

22 Environment Victoria

Alan Pears, an engineer and teacher turned energy-sector activist, has fond memories of working on Energy to Burn, a household guide to energy published in 1981. His day job was running the Gas and Fuel Corporation’s public energy information centre, and to promote the book, he travelled to a low-energy display home in Bendigo with Channel 10 weather presenter Rob Gell. “I still remember, it was an icy Bendigo day, cloudy and miserable, and we walked into this house and it was really comfortable. There’d been no heating on or anything and Rob was like, ‘My goodness!’ Rob then ran a segment on the news and he basically did a fantastic sell job of this booklet.” Within weeks, Pears says, 3000 copies had all gone. The CCV also campaigned against the State Electricity Commission of Victoria’s (SECV) plans for new coal-fired power stations in the Latrobe Valley. It published the 1981 book Fuel for Unrest, edited by Les Dalton, which critiqued the brown coal industry, highlighted the SECV’s plans for 23 new coal power stations, and outlined an alternative economic

development pathway for the region. Authored at a time of growing concern over energy resources and nuclear power, the book was a foretaste of the organisation’s long-running campaigns to expose the impacts of coal-fired power generation in the Latrobe Valley, which gained much traction later in the decade. The CCV also pressured the government to introduce much-needed insulation and energy efficiency standards to state-wide building regulations. As well as corresponding with ministers, the CCV could now argue its case in its own newsletter, which deputy director Mike Lockwood and director Geoff Wescott had improved and rebranded as Environment Victoria (a name that 14 years later would come to represent the entire organisation). When Wescott left in 1981, he was replaced by 24-year-old journalist Peter Browne, who had worked on Energy to Burn. Browne arrived to find a “tiny operation” that acted as a secretariat to an active executive presided over by the energetic and idiosyncratic W.S. “Bill” Carroll, who also founded the Westernport and Peninsula Protection Council. “Bill was a bit of an enigma,” says Browne. He was far from the stereotypical long-haired hippie environmentalist. “He was a doctor – a GP – and he drove a Jaguar, lived in Canterbury and had a holiday house somewhere down on Western Port Bay.” In the CCV’s 1981 annual report, Carroll painted a bleak but evocative picture of the recent threats to the environment:

Chapter 2 I The Members: the 1980s

We have failed to prevent aluminium smelting at Portland, woodchipping in the Otways, further petrochemical complexes on bayside shores, tank trials tearing up Crown Land in Big Desert, hardwood destruction in north-eastern regions of the state, illegitimate export of woodchip from East Gippsland, advanced planning for a pulp mill at Cape Conran utilizing Snowy River waters, and a power station mania in the Latrobe Valley, which is barren of rationale and environmentally irresponsible. He concluded with an ironic riff on Hamer’s slogan: “Long live the Garden State”. Carroll and the executive communicated regularly with the state government. “I was surprised at how willing ministers were to meet with us, especially during the early days of John Cain’s Labor government,” recalls Browne. The chair or deputy chair of the board would always be present at these meetings. The CCV’s modus operandi, Browne says, was not so much to make the running itself as to assist member organisations to run campaigns. Representing 125 environment groups with a combined total of 50,000 members, it operated very much as a peak body. Its campaigning style could be described as discreet. For example, it produced a Save the Otways brochure in which it took second billing to another group. “That was the style of the organisation,” Browne says. “We didn’t really run our own campaigns when I started. It wasn’t a bad role for an organisation to be playing, but it wasn’t

Left: The Conservation Council of Victoria team at the Environment Centre in 1987.

a very fashionable role.” The council also took a back seat in lobbying for a national park in the Victorian Alps, with the Victorian National Parks Association leading the campaign. Using his journalism and publishing skills, in February 1982 Browne introduced a new, more fashionable-looking, tabloid-style Environment Victoria, which ran large advertisements for individual and school subscriptions, offered at $10 for six issues per year. These subscriptions would eventually form the backbone of the organisation’s base of individual supporters and members.

Victoria’s political landscape was changing. In 1982, Labor’s John Cain won power after 27 years of Liberal-Country Party government, and Evan Walker became Minister for Conservation and Planning. There was a sense that things were going to improve for the environment, Janet Rice says. Government funding started to flow more freely for environmental groups, there was a greater focus on environmental protection, and Labor developed a state conservation strategy. Rice, who had studied climate science at the University of Melbourne, arrived at the Conservation Council of Victoria as acting Environment Victoria 23

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: The East Gippsland Coalition working at the Environment Centre in 1987.

nature conservation officer in 1983, after taking part in the Franklin blockade. At the CCV she worked on various campaigns, including the Land Conservation Council’s investigation into the Murray Valley, had a stint as acting director, helped develop the CCV contribution to the state conservation strategy, then teamed up with Margaret Blakers to prepare input to the timber industry inquiry. In 1984, the CCV celebrated a major win. After a decade-long campaign, the Grampians National Park was finally declared, preserving an important habitat and ensuring sustainable 24 Environment Victoria

tourism for generations to come. Geoff Wescott remembers attending the official declaration day: “The locals had pulled the national park sign out of the ground using four-wheel drives and chains the night before. Fortunately, the Park Service were onto them and had a spare. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so thrilled to drive from Stawell and to come into Halls Gap and to see that big wooden sign, ‘Grampians National Park.’ I was proud as punch.” He describes the declaration of the park as “an extraordinary achievement for the movement as a whole. There was a sense all the way through

the ’70s into the ’80s that we would never get the Grampians National Park. It was the jewel in the crown of the Forests Commission.” But more challenges were ahead. Vested interests had their eyes on remote forests in East Gippsland. Soon the government’s draft Timber Industry Strategy would open the door to export woodchipping there. In response, the CCV formed a coalition with the Australian Conservation Foundation, Native Forests Action Council, Wilderness Society and Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) to oppose the move. Coordinated by Janet Rice and Linda Parlane, and with key people, including Peter Durkin and Margaret Blakers, the East Gippsland Coalition (EGC) set about lobbying government, individual MPs and Labor branches, backing their case with powerful research. “Trying to raise the profile of forests in a remote part of Victoria was difficult as the community was unfamiliar with this area,” Peter Durkin says. He recalls how a poorly attended concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl ran up a large debt. Fortunately, the VNPA’s Dick Johnson came to the rescue. “He said, ‘We are part of the coalition, so we will cover it.’” To be effective, the campaign needed people power. Volunteers were the backbone of the organisation, but there was a need to develop their skills and make the system more efficient. Following a plan hatched by Chris Day, Parlane ran a professional volunteer program – the first in the Australian environment movement. “Until 1984, recruitment of volunteers and their

Chapter 2 I The Members: the 1980s

The Grampians National Park was an extraordinary achievement for the whole environment movement. PHOTO: ADOBE STOCK

placement in organisations was left to individual staff members,” she says. “And often, whoever answered the phone for the organisation had to work out what to do with a person wanting to volunteer. Often they fell through the cracks.” The battle for the forests continued. Janet Rice recalls a pivotal meeting in 1984 between the relevant minister, Rod Mackenzie, Forests Commission bureaucrats and EGC campaigner Peter Durkin, to discuss the Rodger River forest, which was to be logged that summer. Peter pointed to areas of less environmentally significant forest that would yield as much

timber, and Mackenzie agreed to a moratorium on the Rodger River forest. Janet remembers that the Forests Commission bureaucrats were apoplectic with rage. She says, “This was an essential first step in protecting the Rodger River forest. It was an extraordinary meeting to be at, and a real turning point in the East Gippsland campaign.” In 1985, the EGC published a report building a case for a new national park to be declared along the Snowy River, on the Errinundra Plateau, and expanding the existing coastal reserves to form the Croajingolong National

Park. Michael Lockwood wrote the report with assistance from Margaret Blakers, Libby Sandiford, Peter Durkin and Marty Kamener. The following year the CCV published Jobs in East Gippsland: A Transitional Economic Strategy by Peter Christoff and Margaret Blakers, highlighting how the region could move away from native forest logging with minimal social and economic impact and considerable benefit. “It was trying to bring together ecological, economic and social factors in a novel way, one that would be seen as sustainable,” recalls

Above: The Balconies at at Gariwerd (Grampians National Park). The Conservation Council of Victoria published a landmark report calling for the park in 1979, and it was declared in 1984.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Written by Peter Christoff and Margaret Blakers, the 1986 Jobs in East Gippsland report built the economic case for the region to transition away from native forest logging.


Far right: The first activist camp for the East Gippsland Coalition on the Errinundra Plateau, East Gippsland, 1982.

Peter Christoff. This report was also one of the earliest examples in Australia of a social and economic transition strategy being used as part of an environmental campaign, an approach Environment Victoria would return to in later decades in its work on new industries in the Latrobe Valley. “The rumours coming back from the Victorian bureaucracy at the time were that it was very influential in strengthening government resolve to create those parks. And I’m proud of that.” By 1986 the Land Conservation Council had recommended that the parks in East Gippsland be proclaimed, but the government was dragging its feet. It took strong pressure from the EGC and other conservation organisations, including the CCV, to persuade the government 26 Environment Victoria

to agree. In the 1988 state election, the conservation groups targeted marginal seats, and the Cain government barely squeaked back into power. Later, the government relented and proclaimed national parks for the Errinundra Plateau and Rodger-Bowen area. It was a huge win in a massive area of forest that had long been targeted for logging. A Parks Victoria document notes: The Rodger–Bowen area is of the highest significance, incorporating Victoria’s largest forest wilderness; the ancient and very beautiful Mountain Ash forest of the Rodger River; and a rich and varied fauna including substantial populations of arboreal mammals, large owls, and several significant

species such as the endangered Long-footed Potoroo. The landscapes of the parks are exceptional and provide a magnificent backdrop for a range of recreation activities. But the EGC had pushed the Labor government as far as it could on forests. For Janet Rice, the inertia set her on a new political course. “I remember speaking to Labor backbenchers who basically said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t need to deliver on what you want us to deliver because the people who are concerned about forests, they’re going to vote for us anyway.’ And the penny dropped for me because it was true. There was no political pressure to have anything stronger than what Labor was delivering.” Rice went on to become a founding member of the

Chapter 2 I The Members: the 1980s

Australian Greens (Victoria) and a Greens senator. Meanwhile, long-standing CCV executive member Philip Sutton had been working on an ambitious project in the background. Known as the Flora and Fauna Guarantee and started in 1980, it was an audacious plan to create legislation that would forever protect native species for their intrinsic worth. After many twists and turns, the CCV persuaded both sides of politics to pass the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act in May 1988. The act has since been criticised for not being tough enough, but it remains a breakthrough piece of legislation. At the time, it was regarded as world-leading. In the 1987–88 annual report, the passing of the act was described as “one of the council’s greatest achievements” that year. The report observed that the guarantee “marked a turning point in society’s changing attitudes to wildlife conservation”. By 1989, though, a new issue was beginning to make waves in mainstream news reports. People called it the greenhouse effect. The CCV’s 1989–90 annual report pointed out that this involved a major shift in emphasis. Director Felicity Faris wrote, “While nature conservation issues captured and held public attention for many years, urban issues such as energy conservation and transport were lower priority for both the public and for the council. The upsurge in interest in these issues has provided an excellent opportunity for the council.” And so arrived the issue of climate change, coinciding with another shift on the horizon for the CCV and the environmental movement at large.

Left: A tree stump after logging in the Errinundra Plateau, East Gippsland. The Conservation Council of Victoria was a member of the East Gippsland Coalition, which successfully campaigned for a massive area of forest to be protected in the Errinundra National Park and Snowy River National Park.

Environment Victoria 27

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria



Conservation Council of Victoria volunteer coordinator, fundraiser and co-manager

When lines blur

28 Environment Victoria

of the EGC, where campaigning had raised the organisation’s profile and led to major donors making larger donations. She drew on its supporter list to boost the CCV’s, which she used for phone-calling drives, to run raffles and sell wine in reusable bottles. In the late 1980s, Maguire became co-manager at CCV with Linda Parlane and Harry Barber. “It was fantastic to be involved in something so meaningful,” she says. Work, politics and personal life blurred. She made enduring friends and met her partner, Peter Falconer, there. Their son, Kieran, took his first steps at the meeting where the CCV decided to change its name to Environment Victoria. The organisation became more active on urban issues, especially the issue of climate change – or the greenhouse effect, as it was called. Maguire says, “It was such a major scare – it makes other issues look small. It captured the public’s concern, and that translated into issues people in the organisation were keen to focus on. How are we going to translate that public concern into political action and encourage people to support the work we want to do?” That question would dominate the decades to come.

It was fantastic to be involved in something so meaningful.


It started with a friendship. High school science teacher Bernie Maguire was in her mid-20s when her friend Linda Parlane encouraged her to apply for a part-time job coordinating volunteers at the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV). It was 1985, and Linda and the East Gippsland Coalition (EGC) were waging a battle to save native forests from woodchipping. Volunteers were critical to the success of that campaign and others supported by the CCV. “I was coming in raw,” says Maguire. She set off on a recruitment drive, drawing up leaflets and dropping them in libraries around Melbourne. People were keen to become active after the successful Franklin River campaign, and soon she had a box of cards on her desk with volunteers’ contact details. Volunteers were essential to the organisation. “All fundraising, any direct mail that we sent out, all the newsletters, were all driven by huge amounts of volunteer input,” says Maguire. Every few weeks there would be an envelopestuffing drive. After two years, Maguire was appointed membership officer and became involved in fundraising. Money at CCV was often tight, she remembers. “We used to spend a lot of energy trying to see how we were going to balance the books.” Maguire says the CCV learnt from the success

Achievements of the 1980s the popular book Energy • Published to Burn? A Guide to Saving Energy and Money around the Home in 1981 supporting energy efficiency reform. strongly on salinity, rivers • Campaigned protection, Western Port Bay and fire management. with the VNPA and others, • Working pressured the state government to draw together existing parks and land in the Alpine region to create an Alpine National Park. Declared in 1983, this is the state’s largest national park, covering 646,000 hectares. against new coal-fired • Campaigned power stations in the Latrobe Valley, including proposals for the Driffield coal power station, which was eventually halted in the 2010s. 1 July 1984, the Grampians National • On Park was proclaimed, reward for more

than a decade of campaigning.

• Together with the VNPA and ACF,

lobbied members of State Parliament to protect the rare mountain pygmy possum from tourism on Mount Hotham. It led to an area identified as habitat being excluded from the Alpine Resort Act and resulted in an additional 250 hectares being added to the Bogong National Park, allowing the species to roam freely.

• Persuaded Minister for Conservation

Joan Kirner in 1986 that native forests should no longer be cleared to make way for pine plantations.

the idea for Flora and Fauna • Developed Guarantee legislation, then persuaded both sides of politics to pass the worldfirst Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act in 1988. that the controversial • Proposed Brunswick to Richmond power line go underground. (The state government did this in 1989.) support local activism, published • To Standing up for Your Local Environment with the Town and Country Planning Association.

• With East Gippsland Coalition,

successfully campaigned to have Errinundra Plateau, Rodger-Bowen and Coopracambra incorporated into three major new East Gippsland national parks in 1988.

Environment Victoria 29

Chapter 3 I Evolution: the 1990s


Evolution: the 1990s Forestry spies, a new name, tackling transport and a win in Western Port.

A Weedy Sea Dragon off Flinders Pier at the entrance to Western Port Bay. In the 1990s, Environment Victoria and local groups stopped Shell-Mobil’s plans to import oil through this stretch of water.

30 Environment Victoria

Chapter 3 I Evolution: the 1990s



ooking back now, the volunteer’s behaviour was suspicious. But as the dozen or so staff and other volunteers gathered at the organisation’s heritage bluestone headquarters in O’Connell Street, near the Queen Victoria Market, they had other things on their minds. It was the mid-1990s, and they were here to brainstorm strategies to end logging native forests. Critical forest reserves were under imminent threat: native forests in East Gippsland, and in the Central Highlands, more than a million hectares of pristine forest, which was home to the state’s fauna emblem — the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum. To multinational logger and paper manufacturer Amcor, though, the forests were their most prized Victorian resource. The public forest was theirs to woodchip under a guarantee legislated in 1936. Since the early 1990s, environmental activists had been pressuring the logging industry to abandon native forests. Seasoned forest campaigner Linda Parlane had returned to the Conservation Council of Victoria (CCV) in 1990 as a co-manager with Harry Barber and Bernie Maguire, and she had assembled a crack team of talented environmentalists, including Barry Traill, Marie Meggit, Jayne Weepers and Patrick O’Leary. While conservation groups such as the Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) organised mass demonstrations and on-site actions, the peak body worked behind the scenes, using its reputation, credibility and authority to influence government at both state and federal

levels. Its efforts hadn’t gone unnoticed at corporate headquarters. The organisation had become a thorn in Amcor’s side. Back in the upstairs meeting room, people were relaxed, sharing jokes between the serious moments of campaign plotting. They talked tactics: when and where to hold demonstrations, which politicians in marginal seats to target, ideas for boycotts and antilogging billboards. Everyone contributed except for one volunteer, a woman called Tracy. Tracy rode her motorcycle all the way from the Latrobe Valley to attend these meetings, but she was too busy writing down what everybody else said to share any thoughts of her own. One or two campaigners exchanged sideways glances. It was unusual for a volunteer to be scribbling notes like this, but Tracy was given the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps she was just eager. Surely she couldn’t be a spy? Victoria in the early 1990s was still in the grip of what Australia’s treasurer Paul Keating famously called “the recession we had to have”. The decade began with the $2 billion collapse of the Pyramid Building Society and the failure of the State Bank of Victoria, which was brought to its knees by its merchant banking subsidiary, Tricontinental. With the state’s finances in crisis, John Cain resigned, and Joan Kirner became Victoria’s first female premier. Her tenure only lasted until October 1992, when Jeff Kennett’s Liberal-National Coalition swept into power. Emboldened by a huge majority, Kennett set about an aggressive privatisation agenda. Environment Victoria 31

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: ABC TV weatherman Edwin Maher reveals Environment Victoria’s new name and logo at the organisation’s 25th birthday in 1994.

32 Environment Victoria

First in his sights was the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, which was split up and sold off in 1994. The Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria was next. By the end of the decade, the state’s gas and electricity utilities were all in private hands. There was also a radical change in the relationship between government and environment groups. On election eve in 1992, Linda Parlane, director of the CCV, wrote a letter to Jeff Kennett criticising the Coalition’s decision to hold back its policies on forests, mining, planning and water until just three days before the election. There was no energy policy at all. “Through this delay the Coalition has treated the electorate with contempt,” Parlane wrote. “The lack of time for public debate means that you cannot claim to have public support for your policies in these crucial areas, should the Coalition win the election.” If there was any doubt about Kennett’s leadership style, it was put to rest by the terse response he shot back just a few days after his election win: “Dear Ms Parlane,” he wrote. “Thank you for your letter… Your comments are noted but we strongly disagree with your expressed views–as obviously does the majority of Victoria. Yours sincerely, Jeff Kennett.” The CCV responded to its increasingly difficult relationship with the state government by shifting its focus to Canberra and national politics. State government funding was cut, leading to a financial crisis. In order to survive, the CCV would have to evolve, learn how to raise money and

become financially independent. There were also internal philosophical tensions around the organisation’s role and direction. Cath Smith recalls tensions between the nature-loving, conservation-focused bushwalkers of the affiliate groups and an emerging cadre interested in more fundamental issues. Smith, who had come from the Australian Conservation Foundation, produced a magazine, Our World, in 1991 to explain solutions to the threat of climate change. She

joined the CCV executive in 1992 and was president from 1993 to 1995. She recalls, “There were some debates around the issue that ‘it’s not just about the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act’”, she says. “As well as looking after flora and fauna, what are some of the things that our state government and the federal government need to be doing, and the community needs to be aware of, that have got a broader environmental impact?” There was a push to change the CCV’s name

Chapter 3 I Evolution: the 1990s

to distinguish it from government bodies such as the Land Conservation Council and other environment groups. The rebranding was also about declaring the organisation’s independence from government. A 1992 issue of the Environment Victoria newsletter canvassed alternatives, including ‘The Green Team’, ‘The (Victorian) Conservation Society’, ‘The Institute of Conservation’, and, the eventual winner, ‘Environment Victoria’. (Ironically, governments would later rebrand their own departments with similar names, such as Sustainability Victoria, in a move that may or may not have been intended to muddy the waters.) Co-managers Linda Parlane, Harry Barber and Bernie Maguire put their heads together and set about working on the organisation’s new brand and structure. “We decided that we were going to need to be a fundraising-driven organisation to survive, which meant that we had to have a higher profile,” says Parlane of that formative time. “And we had to run our own campaigns rather than supporting other people’s campaigns, which was primarily what the council had done up until then.” The restructure also involved a realisation that they needed to accept and embrace individual members, something the umbrella group had never done before. On a fine day in February 1994, at the Coolart historical property on the Mornington Peninsula, ABC Television’s beloved weather presenter Edwin Maher cut the cake on the occasion of the CCV’s 25th birthday. The guests, who included veterans of the Victorian environment movement

Faster trains meant more services at lower cost, leading to more people leaving their cars at home.

such as Ros Garnet, were given an opportunity to become familiar with their organisation’s new identity as Environment Victoria. Cath Smith outlined the rationale in her president’s report: “The name change is planned to raise the profile of the organisation and reach more of the majority of Victorians who think environment should not take a back seat to economics.” A formal vote was carried unanimously at a meeting of councillors on 28 June 1994, and Environment Victoria Incorporated was

born. By this stage the financial outlook had improved, with a small budget surplus recorded after two years of being in the red. There was a physical shift too, with Environment Victoria moving to a new bluestone headquarters at 19 O’Connell Street, to be shared with Bicycle Victoria. By now the campaign focus had diversified. Successful publications such as Fuel for Unrest (1980) had questioned the state’s reliance on coal, and the issue of transport had been put firmly in the spotlight, helped by a 1992 conference titled ‘Competing with the Car’, which included guest speaker Dr Juri Pill from the Toronto Transit Commission. The following year, Environment Victoria produced a government-funded report by transport expert John Stone titled Making Money from Better Service, which showed that faster trains meant more services at lower cost, leading to more people leaving their cars at home, reducing pollution and saving money. Launched by Mike Colle, the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission, the report also criticised the Public Transport Commission’s propensity to cut frontline staff while protecting its top-heavy management structure. Environment Victoria, with other environment groups, established a Community Energy Network to lobby to reduce the environmental impact of energy production and use in Victoria. Among them was energy specialist Alan Pears, who had recently left the public service and helped to persuade the state government to make insulation mandatory in all new houses.

Left: Public transport was a focus in the ’90s. The 1992 Competing with the Car conference included a influential guest speaker from Toronto Transit Commission.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Together with local groups, Environment Victoria fought off Shell-Mobil’s plans to import oil though Crib Point in Western Port.

The political climate for conservation in Victoria remains quite hostile.

34 Environment Victoria

At the same time, Environment Victoria continued to support other groups in various battles, including a proposed Eastern Freeway extension, an ongoing fight to stop an oil terminal being built at Crib Point on Western Port Bay, and the Save Albert Park campaign, which opposed relocating the Australian Grand Prix to the park. Public transport also continued to be a focus, with Environment Victoria playing a significant role in the successful grassroots campaign to save the Upfield railway line from being closed by the state government. With Kennett in power and Environment Victoria shut out of state politics, the organisation again turned to national strategies, particularly around forests, where it collaborated with peak conservation organisations in other states. “The political climate for conservation in Victoria remains quite hostile,” reads a 1994 annual report. “The pattern established by the State Government immediately after the 1992 election has continued, with consultation a thing of the past. The Council’s exclusion from the logging planning process for the first time in more than 10 years is ample demonstration of this.” While environmental groups continued protesting and pressuring woodchipping companies, Environment Victoria began concentrating on a solution-based strategy. It raised funds from members and supporters to fund a groundbreaking report, Growth in the Victorian Timber Industry: Initiatives for Jobs in the 1990s, by timber industry economist Judy Clark (subsequently, as Judith Ajani, author of

The Forest Wars). This led to a landmark 1995 report, Australia’s Plantations: Employment, Industry, Environment, a document that, for the first time, catalogued the vast extent of plantation timber already available around the country, forming a solid basis from which to argue for the immediate end of native forest logging. On ABC Television’s Lateline with Kerry O’Brien, Linda Parlane went head-to-head with the National Association of Forest Industries’ Dr Robert Bain and won the debate. More than 80 per cent of Australians were opposed to native forest woodchipping exports, she noted, and here was a plan to move out of native forests and into plantations that would create jobs. But the native forest industry had other ideas. A Four Corners investigation in 2006 revealed that during this time, the management and unions at logging giant Amcor had joined forces to fund a consultant-led special department they called the A-team, whose role was to obtain information, discredit green groups and ultimately win the battle for public opinion. The A-team kept detailed records; these were meant to be destroyed after they disbanded, but instead they were leaked to Four Corners, revealing a systematic campaign to infiltrate and discredit green groups, and also to take over ALP branches in order to influence environmental policy directly. “Looking back in hindsight, it was obvious that she was very sus,” former volunteer coordinator Barry Traill says of Tracy, the over-eager volunteer. Four Corners revealed


Chapter 3 I Evolution: the 1990s

she was an Amcor spy, one of several A-team ‘volunteers’ who joined environmental groups and protests in order to gather intelligence for the company’s counter-campaign. Tracy was from the Latrobe Valley, where Traill himself had grown up. “Why she was in Melbourne was vague. Why she was doing voluntary work was vague. It was just all vagueness.” Long-serving Environment Victoria volunteer Geraldine Ryan became suspicious when she found Tracy photocopying a thick volume of what looked like policy documents – not the materials she had been instructed to copy. But Traill wasn’t convinced. He was

thinking, “No one would bother with us. We were just a volunteer operation. No one would bother to infiltrate us.” At the same time, anonymous Freedom of Information requests started flooding the office. They sought information on how Environment Victoria received funding and how grants were distributed. The intention was presumably to discredit the organisation, but the requests also stretched the already overworked staff. In Canberra, Linda Parlane lobbied Labor Environment Minister John Faulkner to protect high-conservation-value native forests. But ALP members of parliament, particularly

backbenchers from Victorian and Tasmanian pro-logging seats, worked behind the scenes against it – as did Amcor’s A-team, who waged a public relations war against Environment Victoria using techniques similar to those used years later by Big Tobacco. It all came to a head when hundreds of demonstrating logging workers encircled Canberra’s Parliament House with their trucks in 1995. “That was the moment we lost the forests campaign,” says Linda Parlane. After several days, Prime Minister Paul Keating relented and renewed annual woodchipping export licences. It was a killer blow.

Above: Hopetoun Falls, Great Otway National Park.

Environment Victoria 35

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: The campaign team and volunteers at the launch of a new anti-logging billboard (posing with ‘Larry the Leadbeater Possum’).

36 Environment Victoria

Reflecting on the logging industry’s efforts to affect Environment Victoria’s campaigns, Parlane is philosophical, but also proud. “I think it demonstrated the effectiveness of the campaign, that those people went to the extent of putting a mole in, stealing documents and working very hard to discredit the organisation in a whole range of ways. Because we had the arguments. And we had public support.” The campaign continued when Esther Abram took over as Environment Victoria director in 1997. John Howard’s Liberal-National Coalition had recently won power, and further funding pressures were placed on the organisation as government grants to environment groups were reduced and then scrapped altogether. With administrative core grants drastically reduced, Environment Victoria sought funding wherever it could, including donations, fundraising and gifts in wills. Amanda Martin and Esther Abram built strong relationships with supporters and donors that kept Environment Victoria afloat over the following years. Supporters such as Ann and Bruce McGregor not only gave money to the organisation but took part in the Green Ribbon Fund, an initiative to train existing supporters on how to approach others for donations. (After 25 years, the Brunswick couple are still contributing funds to Environment Victoria. Ann says that Environment Victoria has been “very effective over the years in issues and campaigns that we think are really important to us”.) Environment Victoria also managed to find funds by running programs for government

Environment Victoria has been very effective over the years in issues and campaigns that are really important to us.

and energy utilities, including community consultation on environmental flow regimes for rivers. Its successful Smogbusters project, a community air pollution education campaign that ran in five states, continued to be funded by government, as did the GreenHouse Promotions Program, an innovative community waterand-energy-saving initiative sponsored by the manufacturers of environmentally friendly

products. The program was driven by Esther Abram, staffed by Kate Brent and Ione McLean, and supported by expert volunteer Alan Pears. In other positive news, in January 1997, Shell International announced it had indefinitely shelved plans to build an oil terminal at Crib Point in Western Port Bay, a fitting reward for the persistent work of Environment Victoria campaigners and local activists. But the emergence later in the year of the Regional Forest Agreements came as a huge blow. This new process favoured logging over conservation and made native forests available to the logging industry for at least the next 20 years. The only positive note came later from the successful campaign by the Otway Ranges Environment Network in the state’s south,

where a 100,000-hectare national park was created in 2004. Environment Victoria’s forests campaign shifted focus under new coordinator Rod Anderson. Until now, environmental organisations had concentrated their efforts on government, but under Anderson Environment Victoria focused on the logging and paper corporations themselves. Anderson recalls using a large pile of native animal road kill he and others had collected and stockpiled in his Clayton garage for a photoshoot for a billboard against Reflex copy paper. “Afterwards, I was left with a huge pile of stinking, rotting native animals to dispose of,” he says. Aside from prominent billboards, Environment Victoria helped found Doctors for Forests, which produced an important report on water catchment logging; it also continued to support forest campaigns by the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth and the VNPA. In October 1999, Labor’s Steve Bracks surprised everyone by defeating Jeff Kennett, scraping into power with support from a few independents. One of them was Craig Ingram, previously vice president of the Snowy River Alliance, one of Environment Victoria’s strong affiliate members. The new premier was also interested in the region. “It turned out that Steve Bracks had been camping as a child down at the Snowy River,” recalls Esther Abram, Environment Victoria’s director. “He had a very deep affection for it.” Abram remembers lobbying the new state government over many issues in those early months.

The campaigning on the Snowy River had some success. More than 99 per cent of the Snowy’s headwaters had been diverted to the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers for irrigation through the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, but now the Victorian government began negotiating with the New South Wales and Commonwealth governments to restore flows. “That was really fantastic,” says Esther Abram. “The river’s still not in good shape but it really saved that river from dying.” With a new, more consultative government in power, Environment Victoria set about highlighting better ways of approaching decision-making in general. The idea, which had emerged from the United States, was known as triple bottom line thinking. It melded social, environmental and economic considerations equally. “This was a crucial first step in changing the narrative away from ‘environment competes with the economy and the economy is more important’,” says Abram. She adds that the Bracks government began requiring all cabinet documents to do a “triple bottom line” assessment of proposals. “It was an important precursor to some better environmental policy outcomes down the track.” At the turn of the millennium, Environment Victoria celebrated an extraordinary 30-year journey: from its birth as a governmentfunded umbrella group for a host of Victorian conservation organisations to its present status as an increasingly independent state and national environmental leader. It had evolved from its early focus on nature conservation to

act on a diverse range of environmental issues, including those influencing urban life. And now, at a time when countless other issues clamoured for attention – Indigenous reconciliation, globalisation and the East Timor crisis, to name a few – some were asking just how the environment fitted into it all. Environment Victoria president Michael Simon wrote in 2000, “For Environment Victoria and its supporters, the answer is clear. The environment in one way or another must be an integral part of any and all responses to issues such as these. It can’t be ignored, or hived off, and we can’t afford for it to be seen as a specialist or fringe issue.” In other words, it was time for the environment movement to go mainstream.

Above: In 1998, Environment Victoria targeted the Reflex paper brand with billboards showing dead native animals killed by logging.

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria



Campaigner, former Director and life member

The fearsome forest campaigner

38 Environment Victoria

Parlane learnt a great deal from the success of that campaign, and she brought the knowledge with her to the East Gippsland Coalition’s successful campaign for national parks in the mid-1980s. During the 1990s she became a stand-out leader of Environment Victoria and gained a strong reputation for her determined approach, whether she was negotiating with politicians behind closed doors, debating logging interests on live television or dealing with Amcor’s dirty tricks. Being a young woman speaking out for the environment in a largely male-dominated era also took courage. Where did it come from? “It’s because you’re standing up for the environment, you’re not standing up for yourself,” she says. “The environment can’t stand up for itself, so we’ve got to do it.” Parlane is proud to have been part of the team that transformed the CCV into Environment Victoria, running effective campaigns and beginning the organisation’s journey to financial independence. “I’m also proud of our work on forests and the transition to plantations. Despite bullying from the woodchip industry and unions, we ran a powerful national campaign which gained massive public support.”

The environment can’t stand up for itself, so we’ve got to do it.


Colleagues describe her as an uncompromising, tough-as-nails campaigner. “Do they?” laughs Linda Parlane, who at first glance looks more like a librarian than a formidable environmental warrior. New Zealand-born Parlane arrived in Melbourne as a teenager. She went on to campaign for many different environmental issues, including green transport, solar energy and climate change, but is perhaps best known for her work fighting for Australian native forests. Her affection for forests developed gradually, she says, beginning with bushwalks at Wilsons Promontory as a high school student and then studying botany at university. “Later, I fell in love with East Gippsland. Friends and I were thinking of living there.” In the mid-1970s, she heard about plans for woodchipping in the area. “I remember going to a public meeting, hearing more about the devastation it would cause and getting more involved,” she says. “Over the years, I got out into the forests more and more and was appalled by the destruction.” Then the Franklin Dam dispute came to a head in the early 1980s, and she knew she had to put forests on the back burner. “I could see, strategically, that if we couldn’t win the Franklin then we weren’t going to win anything in Australia of national significance.”

Achievements of the 1990s Published Growth in the Victorian Timber Industry: Initiatives for Jobs in the 1990s, showing there were more jobs in preserving native forests than woodchipping them.

• Conservation Council of Victoria

renamed Environment Victoria in 1994.

• Campaigned with other community

groups to prevent the Upfield railway line from closing and helped it win a $200 million upgrade in 1995.

Published the landmark report Australia’s Plantations: Employment, Industry, Environment in 1995, which showed there was enough plantation timber around the country to immediately end native forest logging.

• Provided key research and lobbying

for the 1995 federal budget to put $2.5 million towards faster and more frequent trains on existing lines. Environment Victoria’s work on the

Sandringham rail experiment showed faster trains meant more services, more passengers and fewer cars.

• With other environment groups,

stopped a proposal to build a four-star hotel on Wilsons Promontory in 1997.

• Lead petrol was finally withdrawn

• Successfully lobbied state government

• Led state conservation councils in

• With other environment groups,

after many years of campaigning. Environment Victoria contributed by supporting the National Consultative Committee on Lead in Petrol’s new standards and endorsing a quick phase-out of leaded petrol. 1996 to establish Smogbusters, the first national community campaign to achieve clean air through sustainable transport. This later became the Sustainable Living Program and won several awards.

• Working with local environment

groups, saved Crib Point in Western Port Bay in 1997, after a persistent battle to prevent Shell-Mobil from importing oil in large tankers.

to overturn a ban on green electricity in 1998. The subsequent GreenPower scheme allowed accredited retailers to sell electricity generated from nonpolluting renewable energy sources. won the battle for national air quality standards in 1998. The standards applied to all states and territories, improving air quality across Australia.

• With the East Gippsland community,

pressured the Labor government to stop the damming of the Mitchell River in 1999, preserving its unique ecology.

• Working with local activists in East

Gippsland, won a commitment to help the Snowy River flow again in 2000.

Environment Victoria 39

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria


Rebuilding: the 2000s A growing supporter base tackles drought, climate change and the state’s energy future.Â

The 2009 Walk Against Warming crowd spelling out their message across the Yarra. Point Nepean National Park.

40 Environment Victoria

Chapter 4 I Rebuilding: the 2000s


ricia Phelan is nervous. It’s 12.40pm on Saturday 4 November 2006, and Environment Victoria’s climate change campaign director is standing on a Melbourne Town Hall balcony, about to address a slowly growing crowd. They’re here for the nation’s second annual Walk Against Warming – a grassroots campaign initiated by Environment Victoria and the New South Wales Nature Conservation Council to raise awareness and put pressure on politicians to take serious action on climate change. The previous year, 400 people turned up for Victoria’s inaugural walk around Albert Park Lake, while Sydney had as many as 3000. Will Victorians turn out in numbers today? A few things have changed in the past 12 months. The state is one year deeper into the devastating millennium drought; all this summer and the one before, Melburnians have routinely collected shower water in buckets to feed their gardens. In September, Al Gore released his global warming documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, but Australia’s Prime Minister, John Howard, snubbed the former US Vice President and refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol, an international effort to limit climate change. “I don’t take policy advice from films,” he told a journalist at the time. Just days before the Walk Against Warming, former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern released a 580page report on the catastrophic consequences of not taking action on climate change. Phelan and her team at Environment Victoria have not been idle either. They’ve spent a

The grassroots message on climate change was starting to cut through, and people were joining the battle.

year holding town hall meetings across the state, getting locals involved and supporting a burgeoning number of community climate action groups. It is part of an emerging Environment Victoria strategy to focus on climate change, embed respect for nature in all Victorians, and build deeper community organising networks. A few minutes pass. Just before the advertised start time, Phelan sneaks another peek at the scene on Swanston Street. She feels tears start to well up. The road and footpath all the way from Little Collins Street to the City Square is packed with people. The crowd is later estimated to be close to 40,000. “It just went nuts,” Phelan recalls. The participants came from all walks of life. “We were really trying to make it a family-friendly event for people who were concerned about climate change who had never gone on a rally before, to make them feel comfortable and state their point of view.” Her emotion may have been partly due to relief on the day, but for everyone at Environment Victoria, the huge crowd was proof the organisation was on the right track. The grassroots message on climate change was starting to cut through, and people were joining the battle. Environment Victoria 41

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Climate campaigner Victoria McKenzie-McHarg speaking at a Replace Hazelwood rally in May 2010.

At the beginning of the decade, though, Environment Victoria had more immediate concerns. The Bracks Labor government’s shock win in 1999 had been helped by regional Victoria flexing its political muscle. In 2001, Environment Victoria released a report on regional transport, Driving the Fast Train Further. Peter Bachelor, the state’s new transport minister, “enthusiastically supported” the report at its launch and announced $800 million in funding for regional public transport, with improved rail services to Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat. 42 Environment Victoria

In forests, Environment Victoria joined several other organisations in targeting Kleenex tissue manufacturer Kimberly-Clark for its use of native woodchips, and successfully forced the company to stop purchasing woodchips from the Central Highlands. Then, late in 2001, there was a change in orientation at Environment Victoria after Marcus Godinho took over from Esther Abram as executive director. Godinho had previously worked at the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and had been on the Wilderness Society board. At

the time, Environment Victoria was heavily focused on forests protection, and so were other groups. There were only two full-time employees working on climate change or rivers across the entire Australian environment movement, Godinho says. Seeing the modest resources his new organisation had at its disposal, he realised it would be difficult to have a significant impact working across a wide range of issues. “The one thing I’m going to insist,” he told staff when he arrived, “is that we’re not going to try and be


Chapter 4 I Rebuilding: the 2000s

everything to everybody and work across the gamut of environmental issues. We’re going to choose three issues and we’re going to focus on those.” He left it up to staff to choose the three. Climate change, rivers and waste emerged as Environment Victoria’s new focus, leaving forest campaigning (controversially, for some) to Victoria’s other environmental groups, though Environment Victoria continued to support forest advocacy in its traditional role as a peak umbrella group. One notable early exception to the new

tri-campaign plan, however, was the fight to save Point Nepean. The federal government had decided to sell off more than 300 hectares of Department of Defence land there for residential and commercial use. Environment Victoria received a generous bequest specifically to support work on this issue. It negotiated with feuding state and federal governments, ultimately helping to create the Point Nepean National Park and secure the land for community use. In 2001, Bicycle Victoria sold its headquarters,

and Environment Victoria needed new digs. After a 10-month stint in temporary quarters, the organisation moved to the third floor of an award-winning green building at 60 Leicester Street, Carlton (known as 60L), developed by the Green Building Partnership and cornerstone tenant ACF. It took up its new home on Saturday 19 October 2002. With drought continuing to bite, rivers and water allocation became a red-hot issue. Paul Sinclair, environmental historian and author of The Murray: A River and Its People, joined Environment Victoria in 2001 as healthy rivers campaign director. He and other campaigners, including Sue Phillips, Natalie Jamieson, Anne Martinelli and later Juliet Le Feuvre, set about raising the visibility of river health issues in the media, contributing policy around water allocation and helping the state government recruit environmental voices to sit on water consultative committees – forums that until now had been dominated by farmers, water company representatives and irrigation interests. Sinclair collaborated with a consultative group of senior scientists and water experts nicknamed Swampmoss. “We were trying to get a sort of progressive rock-sounding supergroup sort of a name,” he deadpans. “We used them to test our ideas and get advice, because water policy is complicated stuff.” He explains the group’s strength was that members were anonymous and operated under Chatham House rules, which meant they could speak freely because they knew nothing would leak out of the meetings, which took place over wine

Left: Working with local groups, Environment Victoria defended Point Nepean from development in the 2000s, helping to create the Point Nepean National Park.

Environment Victoria 43

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Victoria’s Thomson River suffered from low environmental flows. Environment Victoria played a key role pressuring government to return more water to the river.

44 Environment Victoria

and food on the top level of 60L. Environment Victoria went on to coordinate the recruiting and support of community river health advocates, who joined government consultative committees charged with setting environmental flow regimes for the state’s rivers. “Before then lots of community people couldn’t participate in the water process,” says Sinclair. “The meetings were usually scheduled during the day, they took an enormous amount of time and for irrigation lobby groups that was just their bread and butter. So the Victorian government funded Environment Victoria to work as a conduit between the community and government.” Sinclair pays particular homage to two key Victorian water bureaucrats who supported this process – Dr Jane Doolan and Paul Bennett. Although he gave Doolan and Bennett “absolute hell” on occasion, Sinclair says, Environment Victoria’s water funding remained. Sinclair went on to co-write a new Water Act with Brendan Sydes from the Environmental Defender’s Office and present it to Victoria’s deputy premier and Minister for Environment and Water, John Thwaites, who was open to water reform. Large parts of their work eventually found their way into a new Victorian Water Act in 2005. This was a landmark reform that returned environmental flows to many state rivers and set up a process for future water allocation, which included lessons learnt about community consultation and the importance of soliciting independent scientific advice rather than relying on bureaucrats, some of whom

had been captured by the irrigation industries, Sinclair says. Other wins on water in this period included a significant increase in the amount of money invested in river restoration and the care of floodplains, and success in encouraging governments to buy back water from willing farmers, such as those in the Murray-Darling Basin. Significant water flows were returned to the Thomson River, too. While Environment Victoria worked behind the scenes with politicians and bureaucrats,

it also exerted pressure in the media with popular events such as the River Feast, which was organised jointly with the ACF on the Yarra River in 2006. The event featured Murray cod, celebrity chef Stefano de Pieri and a “Flow-tilla” of tinnies, kayaks and rafts with supporters calling for increased environmental flows. “The Murray River system is being destroyed because too much water is taken out and too much pollution is put back in,” wrote rivers community campaign coordinator Leonie Duncan in EV News at the time. “Seventy-


Chapter 4 I Rebuilding: the 2000s

five per cent of the Murray’s flow is extracted, mostly for irrigation. The lack of flow leaves the Murray system close to collapse and at risk of losing the many values – natural, recreational, cultural and emotional – that a healthy river system provides.” Environment Victoria also championed urban waterways, winning increased flows to the Yarra and Werribee Rivers. It established a highly successful program called Waterkeepers, which supported dedicated community groups to care for and monitor the health of their local

Left: The Yarra River Feast and ‘Flow-tilla’ called for increased river flows.

waterways. The message was finally getting through – rivers were no longer simply a utilitarian asset; they were an emotional and cultural connection and source of life for us all. Environment Victoria 45

Above: The logo for Environment Victoria’s DUMP awards, which named and shamed consumer products with wasteful and damaging packaging. Right: In the 2000s, Environment Victoria launched Victoria’s first multicultural sustainability programs.

46 Environment Victoria

The organisation’s other major campaign areas hadn’t been forgotten. Led by zero waste campaigners Jenny Henty, Mark Doggett and Fraser Brindley, Environment Victoria targeted over-packaging culprits with an annual round of ‘DUMP’ awards. It also won a national scheme to tackle the growing problem of e-waste (redundant computers, televisions and other unwanted digital technology). Other campaigns that were ultimately successful included a campaign to ban plastic bags from the state and a collaboration with Sustainability Victoria to help deliver the state government’s Towards Zero Waste strategy. In the early 2000s, there was also a hardfought campaign, led by Darren Gladman and Trish Phelan, to stop an expansion of the Hazelwood mine to new coalfields in the Latrobe Valley. This was arguably the first time the expansion of the coal industry had been so strongly challenged in Australia. While the campaign was unsuccessful in the end, it delivered a silver lining: it made the Hazelwood expansion a high-profile issue. And, while the government approved the mine expansion, it softened the blow by committing to ensuring that 10 per cent of the state’s electricity would come from renewable sources by 2016 (up from a measly 3 per cent). In many ways, this was the start of Victoria’s slow but inevitable transition away from coal. By 2006, Environment Victoria had 150 environmental groups as members, more than at any other time in its history and more than any other state conservation council


People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

in Australia. In that year’s annual report, the organisation’s new president, Russell Fisher, redefined the organisation’s mission: “We see that our role is, as the leading nongovernment environmental organisation in Victoria, to work to build support for policies and practices that enable society to live in a sustainable way.” To do this, he called for more collaboration with other groups, motivating and mobilising people to engage in reform, advocating for bolder government action on sustainability and improving Environment Victoria’s governance to create long-term success. The Environment Victoria board also hatched a plan to reduce the organisation’s dependence on government

funding from 75 per cent to zero within the next five years. In 2007, Marcus Godinho left Environment Victoria and was replaced by Kelly O’Shanassy, a water policy specialist who, as she put it, wanted more everyday people to feel they could become involved in environmental advocacy. “Up until now the challenge has been to raise awareness on environmental issues but the future demands a new approach,” she wrote in her first CEO report. “This approach must be focused on providing solutions to the problems facing us today and motivating governments, communities and businesses to adopt them.” O’Shanassy hired Mark Wakeham, a proven

Chapter 4 I Rebuilding: the 2000s

campaigner from Greenpeace, to take the newly created position of campaign director. By separating the roles of CEO and campaign director, the board hoped the CEO could concentrate on running the organisation well and building a strong culture, while leaving the cut and thrust of daily campaigning to a dedicated specialist. Ivan Kolker, who had been Environment Victoria’s organisational services manager since 2000, says the organisation changed significantly as a result. “It was a holistic strategy that covered campaigns, business, fundraising and communications, with key performance indicators that were reported against on a quarterly basis. It really focused the organisation

and made us much more professional.” Meanwhile, in state politics, Premier Steve Bracks resigned on 27 July 2007 citing family reasons. His deputy, John Thwaites, joined him a few hours later, and John Brumby became Premier. “Brumby took quite a while to come across as being a leader on climate but he did,” says O’Shanassy. “And he wrote, at the time, a very strong climate policy.” It was clear to O’Shanassy that Brumby saw an opportunity to lead in climate action. However, his progress was slow. Environment Victoria began by holding the government to account on the solar electricity feed-in tariffs it had promised in the previous election. It then ratcheted up its long-standing campaign

to close Hazelwood, the nation’s dirtiest coalfired power station. The campaign was called “Replace Hazelwood”. O’Shanassy observes this was “the first concerted campaign to retire a coal-burning power station run in Australia”. In the lead-up to the 2010 state election, O’Shanassy recalls being invited to a Labor climate policy launch at a school in Carlton. “The premier was up the front of the classroom and said, ‘If you’re serious about climate action, you have to…’ and he turned around to the blackboard and wrote ‘replace Hazelwood’. You know you’ve had a win when your frame is being used by politicians. That was a good day.” So the stage had been set. “2010/11 is our year to be bold,” read a highlighted sentence towards the end of Environment Victoria’s pre-election annual report. “It’s the year when all those who care for our environment need to stand up with us and be counted. It’s the year to know that every action we take matters.” With Brumby’s climate change policy announced, Hazelwood looked to be heading for closure. Victoria finally seemed ready to scale up its response to the climate crisis, and the future looked brighter. Labor’s environmental and energy policies weren’t perfect – they still supported HRL, the new coal-fired power station formerly known as Driffield, which would cost $50 million, and had only pledged to shut down a quarter of Hazelwood – but they were streets ahead of the Coalition, who seemed set on a collision course with the environment movement. Now, all Labor had to do was win.

Left: Participants in the Future Powered Families program at Mill Park, 2015. Environment Victoria’s sustainability programs have reached diverse communities in 130 languages.

Environment Victoria 47

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria



Former Sustainable Living program manager

The community engager UK-born Michele Burton spent eight years at Environment Victoria running the Cool Communities program. This pioneering behaviour-change initiative targeted community groups who had slipped through the mainstream media cracks to save water and energy. These communities, known as CALD (Culturally and Linguistically Diverse), included new migrants and refugees who spoke little English and people who were less likely to read English language newspapers or watch Australian television. From the late 1990s through to about 2014, Burton and other Environment Victoria staff developed deep expertise on how to encourage behaviour change. Funded by state and federal governments, they recruited and trained community leaders in how to save water and energy. In Vietnamese, the program was called Nha Dep and targeted suburbs such as Footscray and Springvale. Environment Victoria partnered with the Australian Multicultural Foundation, the Western Bulldogs football club, broadcaster SBS and weather presenter Rob Gell to train young leaders how to reduce their community’s environmental impact. The CALD programs had their challenges. For instance, Burton recalls tensions between north and south Vietnamese Australians and the need to navigate cultural differences, such as one 48 Environment Victoria

community’s penchant for gold-coloured lowflow shower heads and another’s preference for washing dishes under running water. The program also required financial investment, and initially it was difficult to attract large numbers of participants. However, the introduction of the national carbon price in 2012 saw the momentum shift. This made funds available to help low-income Australians adapt to climate change and rising energy bills, and some of these supported Environment Victoria’s work. “It was a time when we could be innovative and there was funding around to let us do that,” Michele says. “As a result, we were able to achieve some really great outcomes for communities that would have otherwise been quite marginalised from this environmental messaging.” Environment Victoria’s final sustainable living program, Future Powered Families, operated at a huge scale. It was delivered in more than 130 languages and trained thousands of Victorians to teach their communities how to save water and energy. Environment Victoria’s expertise was recognised with a national Eureka Prize for communicating climate change and nominations for the Premier’s Sustainability Awards.

It was a time when we could be innovative, reaching diverse communities in their language.

Achievements of the 2000s

Contributed research to help win Ramsar listing for Edithvale-Seaford wetlands in 2001, protecting 450 species of native animals and 1300 plants.

Successfully campaigned to stop Kleenex tissues using native woodchips in 2001.

In 2004, helped secure 169 billion litres of environmental flows to the Murray and co-founded Waterkeepers Australia.

• Successfully lobbied for a Victorian

levy on water sales, raising more than $227 million for river rehabilitation and protection.

• In 2002, launched Cool Communities, • Launched Victoria’s first multicultural working with thousands of households across Australia to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and use less energy in their homes.

• Working with local community groups and the VNPA, helped prevent public land at Point Nepean being handed over for housing in 2002.

• Played a key role in the Thomson-

Macalister Taskforce, which recommended that 47 billion litres of water be returned to the rivers. The state government promised increased flows in 2003.

sustainability program in 2004. Over two years, Vietnamese households in Melbourne saved more than 1000 tonnes of carbon pollution through the Nha Dep (Beautiful Home) program.

• Advocated for a mandatory five-star

energy standard for new homes, implemented by the state government in 2005.

• Contributed to landmark reforms in

the Victorian Water Act (2005), which secured environmental flows, allowed water buy-backs and enshrined community consultation.

Established a mandatory target for renewable energy in Victoria, which was enshrined in legislation in 2006.

• Successfully campaigned for

environmental flows to be returned to the Yarra and Barwon rivers in 2006.

• In 2006, persuaded the government to raise Melbourne’s water conservation target from 15 to 25 per cent by 2015.

• Organised Walk Against Warming events, which up to 50,000 Victorians attended annually, between 2007 and 2010.

• Led the campaign to secure improved solar feed-in tariffs in 2008–09.

• In 2010, helped create a pioneering

national scheme requiring manufacturers of televisions and computers to take back and recycle end-of-life products. Landfill levies were also boosted to encourage recycling and reduce consumption.

Environment Victoria 49

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria


Independence & Power: the 2010s A new political force, working with diverse cultures and the single biggest pollution reduction in Victoria’s history.

In the 2010s Environment Victoria campaigned on clean energy, a key solution to the climate crisis.

50 Environment Victoria

Chapter 5 I Independence and Power: the 2010s



n the days before the 2010 state election, the polls were indicating that something had changed. “The Labor people were very worried,” Kelly O’Shanassy recalls. In response to the millennium drought, Labor had invested billions in a desalination plant and a pipeline to bring water to Melbourne from the Goulburn River. But now the drought was breaking, and the Opposition was ridiculing Labor’s measures. It rained on election day, and Ted Baillieu’s Liberal-National Coalition was elected with single-seat majorities in both houses of parliament. The change of government was a huge blow to the environment movement. Climate change and environmental protection had become partisan issues. Labor had supported many policies Environment Victoria had proposed, but the Coalition set about scrapping most of them. The new government allowed cattle to graze in the Alpine National Park, made laws that restricted wind farms, encouraged brown coal exports, walked away from talks to close Hazelwood and watered down climate change and renewable energy targets. Environment Victoria, which still relied on state and federal grants for 75 per cent of its income, also saw its finances take a hit. Kelly O’Shanassy and Mark Wakeham were sitting in a 2011 budget lock-up when they learnt the government had decided to cut the organisation’s program grants, essentially defunding it. “No one told us, no one from the government rang us,” O’Shanassy says. “And then we had to go out and I had to do the media

scrum line-up where they asked, ‘So, how do you feel about that?’” The news was not a complete surprise. As Environment Victoria built its campaigning ability, O’Shanassy and the board knew it risked becoming a bigger target. For the past year, Environment Victoria had been investing in databases and developing its fundraising programs, led by Amber Sprunt. In 2010, the board established a Green Future Fund. “The need for action on the environment is so great and urgent, we decided to establish a rolling fund to resource our campaigns over the next 20 years,” wrote president Russell Fisher. A key group of committed donors responded to this vision, and the Green Future Fund was founded with a $2 million donation – the largest in the organisation’s history – from Anne Kantor through the Dara Foundation. “I’ve always loved Environment Victoria. You get so much done with such a small team,” Kantor later said. “I feel very proud to be part of such a successful organisation.” The investment income from the Green Future Fund has allowed Environment Victoria to grow, invest in fundraising and become independent of government support. The fund was a game changer. With greater financial security, Environment Victoria could plan for the long term and invest in staff, growth and fundraising to ramp up campaigns. Since then donors’ support, belief and passion has empowered Environment Victoria to launch bold projects such as its ‘Just Transition’ program in the Latrobe Valley and its work on subsequent Environment Victoria 51

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: Persistent community pressure and a legal challenge stopped HRL building a new coal-burning power station in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley.

52 Environment Victoria

state election campaigns. (An honour roll of some extraordinary supporters is on page 65.) O’Shanassy says, “It’s now financially stable. It’s funded in an independent manner so it can say what it wants – that was a big achievement.” None of it would have been possible without the incredible people who believed in Environment Victoria’s cause. When O’Shanassy arrived at Environment Victoria in 2007 the organisation’s supporter base was about 3000 people. By engaging more ‘everyday’ people in campaign work and giving them roles to play, she raised the supporter base to more than 42,000 by mid-2013. At the same time, Environment Victoria set itself the goal of embedding respect for the environment in each of Victorian’s five million people. There was also dramatic progress in one of the organisation’s longest campaigns. In November 2012, the Federal Parliament adopted the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. This was a milestone for Environment Victoria’s Healthy Rivers campaign. The plan promised to return 3200 billion litres of environmental water to the Murray River–it would be compromised in years to come, but for the moment it was worth celebrating. “It’s a big moment,” rivers campaign manager Juliet Le Feuvre wrote. “For the first time the water resources of the MurrayDarling Basin will be managed as a whole instead of according to the arbitrary lines that are state boundaries.” Advocates of the plan had been up against “a vigorous, self-interested campaign from some irrigator lobby groups, businesses and upstream states. So, the fact

that the water recovery target has increased is something to celebrate”. Another long-fought issue was the campaign to stop the HRL coal-fired power station from being built in the Latrobe Valley. This became a real threat when the state and federal governments gave the company $150 million. Over three years, Environment Victoria fought to slow the project and have its funding removed. Their strategies included suing the Environmental Protection Agency for approving it in the first place.

The court case that followed imposed conditions that made the project unviable, but the campaign didn’t stop there. Environment Victoria climate campaigner Victoria McKenzie-McHarg targeted the company’s government funding; eventually, the state and federal governments withdrew their grants. Environment Victoria had seen off the last serious attempt to build a new coal-burning power station in Australia. The 2010 election forced another important change in the organisation’s thinking:

Chapter 5 I Independence and Power: the 2010s

Environment Victoria realised it needed to build more political power. Previously, the organisation had relied on winning supporters over with clever policy solutions and innovative proposals, but this approach left it exposed to risk. A good government might take these ideas up, but an irresponsible government would ignore them, or worse. To break out of that political cycle, Environment Victoria needed to compete with the political parties for the support of Victorian voters and put the environment back on the political agenda. And so a long-term strategy was born: to build a powerful constituency for the environment in the electorates that matter the most, the marginal seats in the outer suburbs of Melbourne that determine election outcomes. Environment Victoria needed to become a political player and show both sides that they needed to put forward sound environmental policies if they wanted to win. At the 2010 state election, four marginal seats had determined the result: the “sand-belt” electorates of Bentleigh, Frankston, Carrum and Mordialloc in Melbourne’s south-east. These places also happened to overlap with key federal seats. If the votes in the state election for these four seats were added up, the difference between the major parties was just over 2000 votes – that was all it took to change the government. What if Environment Victoria could build a base of thousands of supporters in these areas and persuade them to make the environment their top priority?


It would take 7000 firefighters 45 days to get the mine fire under control.

This was the basis of the organisation’s political strategy after 2010s, one of the few examples nationally of an environment group developing and resourcing such a long-term campaign and political strategy. At the heart of this new strategy was community organising – a bottom-up style of campaigning with similarities to union organising. In 2012, Environment Victoria supported climate change campaigner Victoria McKenzie-McHarg to travel to the United States, where she spent time with the masters

of grassroots environmental organising – the Sierra Club. This organisation had helped Barack Obama win the presidency in 2008 with strong policies on clean energy. When McKenzie-McHarg was in the US, it was in the last weeks of campaigning for Obama’s reelection to defend that legacy. “Actually going and seeing it in action,” says McKenzie-McHarg, “watching how the Sierra Club was managing that kind of empowerment both on the ground and digitally, through an organised and structured model that was building recruitment and building leadership so that it was self-sustaining, was really influential. It gave us confidence that yes, this is a model that can work for us.” Environment Victoria subsequently employed a community organising team to recruit and train volunteers, and make the environment the foremost issue in key marginal sand-belt and outer suburban seats at the next election.

Left: The 2014 Hazelwood mine fire blazed for 45 days and became a turning point in the campaign to retire the power station.

In summer 2014, the Latrobe Valley faced the catastrophe many had feared. On 9 February 2014, a series of fires broke out in the coal mine adjacent to the Hazelwood power station, and for weeks the town was blanketed in a haze of toxic smoke. It would take 7000 firefighters 45 days to get the blaze under control. Mark Wakeham offered a powerful commentary on the situation from a suburban street in the middle of Morwell. From behind a white disposable dust mask, Wakeham spoke directly to camera, and his report was picked up by global media outlets: Environment Victoria 53

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

The people that we’ve been talking to here today have been most concerned about the air pollution coming from the smoke, in particular, particulates. And they’ve also been asking the question, “How did this happen? Was the mine site not properly rehabilitated?” The issue of mine rehabilitation proved to be a turning point in the story of the Hazelwood power station and Environment Victoria’s long campaign to replace it. Wakeham and his colleague Nick Aberle identified the significance of the issue while reading a Latrobe Valley Express interview with Resources and Energy Minister Nicholas Kotsiras early in the mine fire saga. The minister revealed that the only part of the mine wall that didn’t catch fire was the section that had been rehabilitated, a process that involves covering the area with clay and soil to make it stable and non-flammable. Aberle recalls, “We thought, ‘Ah! That’s interesting. Why hasn’t this side of the mine fire story been picked up?’” The Environment Victoria team did more research. While the mine was still burning, the Coalition government, led by Denis Napthine, announced a judicial inquiry into the fire, but rehabilitation and community health was left out of the inquiry’s terms of reference. Environment Victoria became the only civil society organisation with legal standing to take part in the inquiry, and its legal team took the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses. Aberle says, “It just kept becoming more and more clear

54 Environment Victoria


Right: Environment Victoria’s 2018 state election campaign headquarters in the marginal sand-belt seat of Frankston promoted clean energy.

that the failure to do the rehabilitation was a big contributing factor to the fire probably starting in the first place and then being as severe as it was.” Soon, their research would pay off. In the meantime, Victoria was gearing up for another election, and there was a changing of the guard at Environment Victoria. In March 2014, Kelly O’Shanassy left to head up the Australian Conservation Foundation and Mark Wakeham took over as CEO. As the election approached, Environment Victoria was active on two main fronts: in the Latrobe Valley it campaigned for mine rehabilitation and in the outer suburbs of Melbourne its team of

community organisers, led by Jane Stabb, highlighted the attacks on the environment and clean energy that had taken place under the Napthine government. In Frankston, Environment Victoria campaigners based themselves at the ‘Enviro Hub’, a shopfront close to the centre of town that also served as campaign headquarters for volunteers. “It was a lovely little space,” Jane Stabb says. “It had a big picture of the Frankston pier that we got printed up and stuck onto one of the walls, and campaign volunteers would drop in to do their work and have meetings. We ran training for the door-knocks and phone banks. We also used it for media interviews,

Chapter 5 I Independence and Power: the 2010s

Far Left: Environment Victoria volunteer Ingrid doorknocking in Melbourne’s southeast during an election campaign.


Left: Environment Victoria partnered with GetUp! on a massive doorknocking campaign in the 2014 election.

and politicians, candidates and MPs would drop in from time to time to see how the campaign was going.” Environment Victoria partnered with progressive activist group Get Up! to send volunteers into the community in key suburbs to speak with swinging voters and ask them to sign pledges to vote for the environment. A week from polling day, the pledges would be returned to the voters, along with a scorecard showing each major party’s environmental policies. With such slim margins – Mordialloc was held by 550 votes, Frankston 140 and Carrum just 105 – politicians soon began to sit up and take notice. By June 2014, Frankston Liberal

MP Geoff Shaw had turned independent, and he held the deciding vote in the lower house. At the time, the Coalition wanted to scrap the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET), which cut millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution. Environment Victoria supporters targeted Shaw with hundreds of phone calls urging him to support the scheme and, feeling local pressure, he voted to save it. A month out from the election, The Age ran a story by Shane Green highlighting Environment Victoria’s new election strategy: Across the country, all eyes from green and other lobby groups are trained on the

program being run out of a shopfront in downtown Frankston, which shapes as a test case for this kind of election campaigning. If it works, the tap, tap, tap of the marker pen could be a Morse-like message to the political establishment: ignore us at your peril … With the contests expected to be close, it will take a brave candidate not to make the environment part of their election campaign. As Jane Stabb points out, the activists could tell how many houses had been door-knocked or volunteers engaged (in 2014, 6311 doors were knocked and 1449 phone calls made to undecided voters), but measuring political Environment Victoria 55

People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria

Right: How The Age covered Environment Victoria’s Six Steps to Climate Leadership report, which set the agenda for Victoria’s climate policies.

56 Environment Victoria

influence was more difficult. “One of the measures that we can sometimes use as a proxy is how easy it is for us to get a meeting with a candidate or MP. It got to the point in Frankston where they were requesting meetings with our volunteer groups, and they were coming into our campaign headquarters to just check up on our campaign. That, to us, showed that we had built real political power in Victoria.” By the time the votes were counted, the Coalition was out and Labor, under Premier Daniel Andrews, was back in with a two-seat majority, having made a clean sweep of Carrum, Frankston, Mordialloc and Bentleigh – seats where Environment Victoria had built strong relationships with voters and newly elected MPs. Although Labor’s environmental report card was better than the Coalition’s, its policy detail remained thin. Pre-election campaign rhetoric had talked about Victoria under Labor being a “leader on climate change” – but what did that mean? Environment Victoria helped fill the void in a report called Six Steps to Climate Leadership, which received a double-page spread in The Age. Work like this helped set the stage for the Climate Change Act (2017) and a legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050. At the same time, new renewable energy targets unleashed billions of dollars of investment in wind and solar farms. Over the next four years, the Victorian government boosted local wind and solar projects through the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET), for which Friends of the Earth had campaigned strongly. Environment Victoria

used political pressure in the sand-belt seats to show support for renewable energy in general and the VRET in particular at crucial times, including when it was voted on in Parliament. Things were less promising in the Latrobe Valley, where Hazelwood was still operating. Then, in late 2015, the Labor government reopened the mine fire inquiry, extending its terms to include health impacts and the question of mine site rehabilitation. Again, it granted standing to Environment Victoria

and again the legal team, coordinated by Environment Justice Australia, went to work cross-examining the owners of the Latrobe Valley power stations. During the proceedings, Engie, the owners of the mine, were forced to release details of how much money they had set aside for rehabilitation. The figure was just $73 million. This was as little as a sixth of the amount independent estimates had set as the cost of doing the job properly, but it was much more

than the measly $15 million bond held by the government. In response, the government more than quadrupled the bonds for the three Latrobe Valley brown coal mines – Hazelwood, Yallourn and Loy Yang – from $41.4 million to a combined total of $254 million (later that would be revised again to $504 million). In a separate announcement, they tripled coal royalties, raising an additional $250 million for the state and taking further steps to force the coal companies to internalise their social costs. Meanwhile, thousands of personal messages and phone calls from Environment Victoria supporters to the bank ANZ successfully pressured it not to renew a crucial US$137 million loan to Hazelwood. In a final blow, Worksafe Victoria ordered repairs and maintenance upgrades totalling $400 million and charged Engie with 10 counts of failing to ensure the safety of its workers and the community during the fire. While Hazelwood’s owners were squeezed financially and legally, Environment Victoria ensured they were targeted politically, too. Engie was majority owned by the French government, which was sensitive to international criticism on climate change in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks. Environment Victoria held demonstrations outside Engie’s Melbourne offices, and coordinated with Friends of the Earth France, which occupied the company’s Paris office lobby dressed in kangaroo suits. As part of a fundraising appeal, Environment Victoria designed a postcard proclaiming “Greetings from Victoria!” with the Hazelwood

mine fire on the front. The plan was to deliver the cards to the French President, although, as Nick Aberle acknowledges, “at the time we had little idea how we would actually do this”. Then a French journalist working on a documentary on climate change approached Aberle for an interview about Hazelwood and offered to deliver the postcards personally. Aberle jumped at the chance. Months later, they were delivered to French Climate Change Minister Ségolène Royal in a television interview on the national broadcaster’s flagship current affairs program. The show’s presenter said, “The Australians asked us to give you a little something: a little present, which you can take with you at the end of the show.” With that, she placed a bag of postcards on the desk. “This petition demands attention,” she continued, “asking President François Hollande to lock in a date for the closure of Hazelwood power station in Australia, which is responsible for such an environmental catastrophe.” Minister Royal examined the back of the card, showing viewers the mine fire pictured on the front, and admitted that she had spoken to the company about the fire. She said, “I think things will take care of themselves.” Pressed by the journalist about what this meant, she said, “Engie is going to pull out of this process… Upon my word, this is a commitment by Engie.” Years later, Environment Victoria learnt how significant this event was in the story of Hazelwood’s closure, which eventually took place on 29 March 2017. In 2018, Engie staff met

Environment Victoria campaigners Nick Aberle and Cat Nadel to discuss the events. Over coffee, they revealed that when the minister was presented with postcards signed by thousands of Environment Victoria supporters and committed publicly on television to disengaging from Hazelwood, the power station’s fate was sealed. “That was fantastic,” says Aberle. “It’s so rare that you get that kind of direct feedback as a campaigner. And that was quite satisfying: to know that we were involved in something that really did help push them over the line.” With the closure of Hazelwood, in one fell swoop Victoria’s greenhouse pollution dropped by 10 per cent. At the same time, says Mark Wakeham, Environment Victoria continued campaigning for the Latrobe Valley communities affected by Hazelwood’s closure. “Working with unions and the community, we were successful in winning a package of $270 million in transition assistance for the

Above: French Climate Minister Ségolène Royal read Environment Victoria’s postcard petition on national French TV and then committed to pull out of Hazelwood power station, prompting its closure.

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58 Environment Victoria

Latrobe Valley from the state government and another$40 million from the federal government.” Over the past decade, about a dozen power stations have closed in Australia. Hazelwood’s $310 million package stands out as by far the most substantial. “The next largest transition package was for Playford power station in Port Augusta, South Australia,” says Wakeham, “and that package was only for $5 million. I’m really proud of the way the organisation has been just as concerned with securing social justice as environmental outcomes.” Environment Victoria’s 10-year Hazelwood campaign is a story of persistence and delicate diplomacy. “We kept turning up and talking to people in the Latrobe Valley, building the case for closure and the need for transition support. It was a conversation people didn’t really want to have, but we kept it there on the agenda.” Another side of Environment Victoria’s energy and water campaigns was about promoting energy efficiency and saving water. One of the organisation’s most prominent public campaigns was ‘One Million Homes’, which began in the lead-up to the 2010 election. “The campaign brought together an alliance of environment and social-sector groups, who all recognised the multiple health, cost of living, job creation and emission reduction benefits of improving housing efficiency,” says Anne Martinelli, who led the campaign. The campaign increasingly focused on getting government to put money into retrofitting households that had difficulties paying

With the closure of Hazelwood, Victoria’s greenhouse pollution dropped 10 percent.


Right: Hazelwood power station released its last puff of pollution on 29 March 2017, after a long campaign by Environment Victoria to replace it with clean energy.

upfront costs and, in particular, recognised the complexities facing private tenants. The campaign contributed to three major victories: it persuaded Geoff Shaw to save the VEET, it saw the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act amended to allow regulators to set minimum energy efficiency standards for rental properties, and the government put practical measures in place, including a household retrofit scheme that rolled out in the Latrobe Valley as part of the Hazelwood transition.

Martinelli is proud that Environment Victoria has flown the energy efficiency flag, even though it’s on the “less exciting” side of the energy equation. “It’s been part of the reason why Environment Victoria has been so good at demonstrating how all this stuff matters in the real world. And helping to make sure that there isn’t a divide between social and environmental objectives – demonstrating that unless we’re doing both, we’re really missing the point.”

Chapter 5 I Independence and Power: the 2010s

As the 2018 state election neared, energy again emerged as a key issue. Over the previous four years, Environment Victoria had reached out to the state Liberal-National Coalition for bipartisan agreement on key policies to cut pollution and support clean energy, but had mixed success. The Coalition ultimately adopted a platform to repeal almost every Victorian climate change policy. If they won, they would scrap the VRET, Climate Change Act and pollution targets; they even floated the idea of government support for a new gas or coal power station. Everything was on the line. Labor was initially reluctant to talk about energy at all, fearing an opposition scare campaign on blackouts and power prices. Through persistent lobbying and community campaigns in key electorates aimed at demonstrating support for renewable energy, Environment Victoria and others convinced Labor that it had an opportunity to show leadership by going big on clean energy. In 2018, the campaign for the key sand-belt seats was even bigger than in 2014. Environment Victoria supporters made 80,000 phone calls to undecided voters, booked billboards and radio and TV adverts, and enrolled 1300 young people in those seats. This time around, there was little nuance in the pre-election messaging. CEO Mark Wakeham and the Environment Victoria board were prepared to take the risk of calling out the Liberal Party’s plan to destroy Victoria’s clean energy industry. The Liberals wanted to stall action on climate change, which would cost

thousands of jobs in renewable energy, and the public needed to know what was at stake. Over the course of the campaign, Labor found its voice, and eventually put renewable energy at the centre of its election campaign. Its flagship plan to put solar panels on 700,000 homes was strongly influenced by Environment Victoria’s policy agenda. The media publicised Environment Victoria’s analysis that wind and solar could generate sufficient energy to power every home in Victoria, and two weeks

later Premier Andrews made the same claim on Twitter. Labor’s solar panel pledge featured on the campaign bus and every Labor how-to-vote card. Disciplined and relentless campaigning had shifted the politics of the issue. On election night, Labor won 57.3 per cent of the two-party preferred vote and a big majority in the lower house. A Channel Nine exit poll showed that renewable energy was a pivotal issue for 23 per cent of voters, and Roy Morgan research suggested the Liberals’ poor position on climate change was a key concern among those who voted Labor. In the post-election hangover, Liberals who had nearly lost their seats spoke publicly about climate costing them votes, forcing the party to come back to environmental policy formation at last. For CEO Mark Wakeham, the election was his swansong. Over a decade at Environment Victoria he had accomplished a significant pivot towards building political power and achieved historic campaign victories such as replacing Hazelwood. At the end of 2018, he left the organisation. Early in the new year, Jono La Nauze, a socialjustice campaigner from Albury-Wodonga, took over as CEO. Off the back of the Victorian state election result in November and drought and heatwaves over summer, concern about climate change had risen to a top concern among voters. “It’s an existential threat for people and for the diversity of life on our planet,” says La Nauze. “And it’s the biggest threat to everything that has brought our members together over the past 50 years. We have to campaign on it as if there were no tomorrow, because our lives depend on it.”

Left: The One Million Homes report advocated for home efficiency upgrades for the million Victorians classified as low-income or disadvantaged.

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Campaigner and former CEO

The leader The environment movement can thank the Jabiluka campaign for Mark Wakeham. During the 18-month blockade of the Northern Territory uranium mine, he spent one “awful” night in the cells, but he went on to help coordinate 6000 protesters who streamed in from all parts of the country to join the fight. A part-time Melbourne University student and radio operator with the Australian Army, he remembers reading Noam Chomsky and John Pilger while on operations in central Queensland in the late 1990s, but it was the pleas of the Aboriginal landowners in Kakadu that really galvanised him into action. Wakeham went on to run the Northern Territory’s Environment Centre, where he pursued Rio Tinto until it eventually ruled out expanding Jabiluka. He then worked in the solar industry with Aboriginal communities before joining Greenpeace as a renewable energy campaigner. There, he got to know Kelly O’Shanassy, Environment Victoria’s CEO, who hired him as campaign director. He went on to become a respected and effective CEO himself, challenging governments to form meaningful environmental policies and overseeing hallmark campaigns, including the closure of Hazelwood power station. He’s proud of the resilience and relentlessness Environment Victoria showed over that campaign, which was won and lost multiple 60 Environment Victoria

times before the final victory. “I remember talking to some activists after we lost one of the times and repeating the quote: ‘When you’re a campaigner you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you lose, you win.’ Just to have the courage to keep fronting up, to keep doing it.” He is also proud of Environment Victoria’s pioneering work in community organising and building power. “Just putting our money where our mouth was in terms of hiring organisers, supporting volunteers, doing really hard, on-the-ground work, uncomfortable work – spending your weekends doorknocking or calling people, but doing that strategically and effectively. And then seeing it influencing two state elections and delivering really significant environmental wins and setting an example for the rest of the movement.” Finally, he’s proud of the culture he helped develop: “Where staff, volunteers, donors, supporters are proud to be a part of Environment Victoria and feel like they’re part of a strong community – I think that’s a really important achievement, because what we’re doing is hard, the challenges we face are tremendous and can be depressing, and therefore it’s really important.”

When you’re a campaigner, you need the courage to keep fronting up.

Chapter 5 I Independence and Power: the 2010s

Achievements of the 2010s • Successfully campaigned in 2011 for

the creation of an environmental water holder independent of the minister.

• Won the national Eureka Award for

communicating climate science, relating to Environment Victoria’s work with culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

• Finally won the campaign to stop the

proposed HRL coal-fired power station after a decade of work.

• Ensured promised and existing flows

were delivered to regional Victorian rivers. Won new flows for the Latrobe River as well as increased flows for the Wimmera, Glenelg, Moorabool and Macalister Rivers, and improved groundwater management.

Stopped a new coal allocation in the Latrobe Valley, which would have been the first step in opening up a coal export industry in Victoria.

• Participated in both Hazelwood mine fire inquiries, leading to massive increases in rehabilitation bonds for the state’s three coal mines.

Working with other environment groups, secured the Murray-Darling Basin Plan with up to 3200 billion litres of water recovered for the river system.

• Secured $30 million in additional

funding in the 2015 Victorian state budget for the protection of riverbanks from cows and sheep.

• Successfully concluded the campaign

to replace Hazelwood, which shut in 2017. Its closure slashed Victoria’s climate pollution by 12 million tonnes (about 10 per cent).

• Helped secure $310 million in federal and state government transition funding to the Latrobe Valley community, including an energy efficiency program for 1000 homes.

• Saved and increased the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target.

• Campaigned in marginal electorates to make climate change and renewable energy prominent issues in the 2014 and 2018 state elections.

• Pressured the Andrews government

to scale up its renewable energy commitments, offering half-price solar panels for 650,000 homes.

• Ensured key climate change and

renewable energy policies would continue, including a Victorian target of 40 per cent renewable energy by 2025, the Victorian Climate Change Act, and a legislated target of net zero emissions by 2050.

• Led the ‘One Million Homes’

campaign, which won a commitment to introduce new energy efficiency standards for rental properties.

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Past and future 50 years of history with a 2-year-old.


’m on a father-and-son road trip with my little boy Jack, travelling to north-western Victoria. Our destination is Kiata, a campsite on the edge of the Little Desert. The autumn mornings are crisp, but by lunchtime it’s warm if you stand in the sun. We send Mum selfies with silo art from Rupanyup and a counter meal at Dimboola. We share a bed in the historic Victoria Hotel, and he asks why there’s a washbasin in the room. Over the next few days we explore a tiny corner of the Little Desert from our campsite at Kiata. I have always loved arid ecosystems, and sharing them with my young son is a new delight. Pinks and purples, yellows and greens. Whenever the soil changes beneath our feet, the foliage around us changes with it. A pocket of rushes and red gums testifies to an ephemeral wetland, though water is nowhere to be seen. Walking on sand is heavy going, especially when two-year-old Jack gives up and demands a ride on my shoulders. We climb a lookout 62 Environment Victoria

platform, and suddenly the canopy is a mottled carpet rolling out toward the epic Mount Arapiles. We’re out here to trace the origin story of Environment Victoria, the organisation I’ve just joined. I bring with me the first draft chapter of this book and listen to a podcast history of the Little Desert campaign. This is where it all started. When I was planning the trip, I asked a few Environment Victoria veterans for tips on where to go, what to see. Some were there at the beginning, others joined along the way. I was struck by how much people love this organisation. I feel welcomed into a proud, supportive family and encouraged by people’s willingness to share their wisdom. No one can say the work we do is easy, or that there aren’t dark times and even darker dreams. We do what we do because we must.

But fear and hard work are not all that sustain us. There is love and hope too. So many people in the preceding stories, some of them named and many more not, are still active members of Environment Victoria and the broader environment movement decades later. What compels them to keep generously giving their time and money? To step out of their comfort zone and perform the acts of heroism, small and large, that fuel our campaigns? It must, in part, be that working together for a better world feels good. We’re inspired by nature but we’re still strong after 50 years because we focus on people. We have won lasting change by building a resilient

Above: Environment Victoria CEO with son Jack at the Little Desert.


movement. Our approach has adapted to the times and the context, but we have always been people-powered. We have always been made up of, and worked alongside, everyday people affected by the issues at the heart of our campaigns. People who stand up courageously in their local communities to make Victoria – and the world – a better place. Of our fellow campers in the Little Desert, I wonder how many consider themselves a part of the movement that protected this place? How many realise that this bush is here because people before them fought to save it? It’s a long weekend, and Kiata is busy. There’s a circle of flash off-road camper trailers housing kids and parents who roast marshmallows each night. A middle-aged construction worker and his wife have come to explore the sandy tracks on dirt bikes – they’ve given up dragging their teenage kids away from the city. Millennials are well represented, including a group who look as if they have a common Middle Eastern heritage and party late but remarkably quietly, and a couple in immaculate puffer-jackets who arrive at photography’s golden hour and film their well-rehearsed tent setup in time-lapse. Are they part of our movement? That weekend, I didn’t ask, but it’s a question we must ask ourselves if Environment Victoria is to remain successful. To honour and carry forward the extraordinary achievements of the past 50 years, we must grow. As the population around

True people-powered movements are best placed to overcome such challenges. This is why after 50 years, Environment Victoria remains so strong.

us expands, a people-powered movement must grow with it or diminish in influence. But Victoria’s population is not just growing in size, it is also becoming more diverse. With our greatest challenges ahead of us, we need to keep building an inclusive movement led by people from as many different walks of life as possible. The climate and extinction crises are gaining speed. The environmental calamities we have already baked in, combined with population growth and demographic change, will exert extraordinary pressures on our society. Natural disasters, water shortages and crop failures are not just imaginings from some dystopian fiction. Our challenge is to bring on an emergency-scale response while guarding against backlash and interventions that worsen the problem. We will face division and delay if the costs and benefits are unequally distributed, if people feel left behind and unable to see their place in our story of the future. And invariably there will be those who promote false and dangerous solutions (think nuclear, geo-

engineering, or race-baiting calls for fortress Australia). Some will do so cynically, others out of desperation and belief that there is no alternative. True people-powered movements are best placed to overcome such challenges. This is why after 50 years, Environment Victoria remains so strong and why we must redouble our efforts. We are able to speak to people’s fears and hopes best when we empathise and find common interest with them. When we engage wider constituencies in our campaigns, we build stronger bonds across society and deepen our collective capacity for democratic participation. I do have dark dreams but I am lifted up and propelled forward by the momentum of those who came before. Everyone who has been a part of Environment Victoria’s journey is in some way a hero. Without you, bad ideas would have flourished and good ones withered. You helped preserve the wondrous diversity of life on earth. You warded off the environmental amnesia that results when future generations cannot value what they do not realise they have lost. You held open the door to a better world that is within our reach. A world where nobody has to choose between safety and comfort, between environmental sustainability and human wellbeing. That better world is possible with the imagination and determination of people like you, working together for the sake of Victoria’s environment. Thank you. Environment Victoria 63

Thank you Honour roll, Board members and leaving a lasting legacy. Environment Victoria is only as strong as the people who stand behind us: our volunteers, donors, members, groups, Board members and staff. Thank you for your commitment, belief, support over the decades – and of course your love for Victoria’s environment. We’d like to give a special thanks to the grassroots community groups that power collective action. More than 300 different groups have been members of Environment Victoria over the last 50 years, far too many to mention individually. Every achievement in here is the result of your dedication and support. Thank you.

Grey-headed flying fox, Victoria 64 Environment Victoria

Thank you

Honour roll


Environment Victoria would like to acknowledge the extraordinary support of the following individuals and organisations. You have helped make us an independent and strong voice for the environment. Transformative supporter

Visionary supporters

Gifts in Wills honour board

Anne Kantor, the Dara Foundation and all members of the Kantor family. Anne Kantor’s transformative gift through the Dara Foundation of $2.24 million helped found Environment Victoria’s Green Future Fund. The fund has been a game changer, allowing us to undertake our vital work with confidence, invest in fundraising and become independent from government support.

• B B & A Miller Foundation • Ben Krasnostein & Cassy Liberman • Brian Snape AM & Diana Snape • Bruce & Ann McGregor • NR Peace and Justice Fund • David Spratt • Debbie Dadon • Dennis & Fairlie Nassau • Ellen Koshland • Fair World Foundation • Geoff Boadle • Hamer Family Fund • Heather & Neil Barrett • Jennifer & Henry Burger • Joan Staples & Barry Crisp • Johannes Hart • Malcolm Shore • Martin & Merinda Gallagher • Mullum Trust • Philippa Currie • Planet Wheeler Foundation • Reichstein Foundation • Rob Michael • Simon and Katrina Holmes à Court and family • Stephen Whately • Sue Noy & Norman O’Bryan • All members of the Pledge Circle • Key supporters who wish to remain anonymous, thank you.

Environment Victoria is grateful for the commitment from the following supporters to protect Victoria’s environment by leaving a gift in their Will. It is thanks to the foresight and commitment of this inspirational supporters that we can keep protecting our environment for future generations. We gratefully acknowledge gifts from the following estates over the life of our organisation. • Estate of Anne Elizabeth Roxburgh • Estate of Athol Schafer • Estate of Barbara Beeson • Estate of Beatrice May Terry • Estate of Dorothy Beryl Phillips • Estate of Douglas Andre Schintler • Estate of Eric Bottomley • Estate of Helen Curtis • Estate of John Murdoch Brooks • Estate of John Penington • Estate of Valerie Crohn.

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Thank you

Humpback whale 66 Environment Victoria

Thank you

Board roll


Environment Victoria would like to thank all previous Directors, Board members, Trustees and committee members: A. Power Ailsa Swan Alan Gray Alan Pears Alice Skipper Alison Rowe Alistair Clarke Amanda Nuttall Amanda Stevens Andrew Donovan Anne Hingston Anthony J. Moran Arthur E. Howard Ben Krasnostein Bernard Parfrey Bernie Maguire Bob McIlroy Brian Snape Carl Young Carol Kunert Cath Smith Chris Day Chris Mitchell Christopher Chandler David J. Lee David King David Osborn Denise G. Deerson Dennis Nassau

Diana Snape Diana Haby Dieter Schadt Doug Gimesy Dr Elizabeth Xipell Dr Shol Blustein Elaine Montegriffo Elizabeth McKinnon Emma Humann Ernestine Razario Esther Abram Fairlie Nassau Felicity Faris G. Douglas G. Edwards Gary Mahon Geoffery Wescott Gregory Rose Harry Barber Helen Brereton Herbert Wildes Hugh Wareham Ian Cowdell Imogen Zenthoven Isobel Michael Jack Schmidt James Meldrum Jane Abecrombie Jane Compton

Janet Rice Jeana Vithoulkas Jo Tenner Joan Lindros Joan Staples John Cribbes John P. Skilbeck Julie Goodall Kate Colvin Kate O’Shanassy Katherine Lake Kelly O’Shanassy Ken Hayes Kenneth A. Read Kenneth W. Hayes Lance Nash Larissa Brown Lee Godden Les Smith Linda Bradburn Linda Harris Linda Parlane Lindy Bartholomew Bernie Maguire Malcolm Harding Marcus Godinho Margaret Beavis Margo Lockhart Marie Meggitt

Marita Foley Mark Wakeham Maurice Schinkel Michael Collins Michael Hogan Michael Simon Michael Sissons Mr K Hayes Mr P Brown Murray Hilgendorf Nicholas White Nicola Mendelson P. Rawlinson P. Skilbeck Pam Keating Paul Rutherford Paul Bailey Paul Baker Paul Brown Peter Atkins Peter Brotherton Peter Browne Peter Carey Peter Christoff Peter Cock Peter Falconer Peter Harley Peter Robertson Phil Brown

Philip Sutton Ralf Thesing Ray White Reg Johnson Richard L. Diamond Richard Williams Rob Brown Rob Michael Robert Birrell Robyn Murphy Rod Anderson Rose Read Rosemary Baker Ross L. Cowling Russell Fisher Sarah Bekessy Simon Offor Simon R. Molesworth Simone Zmood Stephen Whately Sue Davidson Sue Lewis Sue Norman Sue Noy Tabatha Fulker Tim Watts William S. Carroll

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People for the Planet I The Story of Environment Victoria



A lifelong legacy Val Crohn was passionate about educating young people in how to live sustainably and protect nature. As a teacher and a member of the Girl Guides, she took countless groups bushwalking, sharing with them her love for being outside. In 1981 she received the British Empire Medal “for service to youth, particularly the Girl Guide Movement and the community”. Val was interested in how our daily behaviour affects the bigger picture of protecting our world. She understood that everything is connected, so looking after one part helps to protect the whole. Her way of life was simple and sustainable. She had solar panels and water tanks on her house long before any of her neighbours. When moving around Australia as part of her husband’s work, she would set up a productive veggie garden wherever she lived and soon began planting native flora to support the local bees and birds. Val discovered her love for the outdoors while studying science at Melbourne University, where she joined the mountaineering club. There she also met her future husband, Peter Crohn (1925­­¯2000), who shared her lifelong love for bushwalking and camping, a passion she passed on to their children, her grandchildren and countless Girl Guides. As part of her lifelong legacy of educating the next generations to live sustainably and protect our environment for others to come, Val decided to 68 Environment Victoria

leave a gift to Environment Victoria in her Will. Her gift will help build a thriving, sustainable society that protects and values nature.

As part of her lifelong legacy, Val decided to leave a gift to Environment Victoria in her Will.

Environment Victoria is grateful to Val Crohn (1925-2018) for her extraordinary gift in her Will to help build a sustainable society that protects and values nature. Leaving a future gift to Environment Victoria in your Will is an exceptional legacy for future Victorians who will inherit this beautiful state. It’s a simple change when you next review your Will. The wording below is a guide for your solicitor or trustee: “I give to Environment Victoria Inc. (ABN: 84 495 053 605) of Level 2, 60 Leicester Street, Carlton, Vic, 3053 for the purpose of safeguarding Victoria’s environment [the residue [or….%] of the residue of my estate] or [....% of my estate] or [the sum of $....] or [specified property….] free of all debts, duties or taxes and declare that the receipt of an authorised officer shall be a sufficient discharge for my executor(s).”

Val Crohn and her husband Peter shared a love of hiking.

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When Victoria’s Little Desert was threatened in the late 1960s, an unlikely coalition was formed to fight for it. Bird watchers, duck shooters, scientists and foresters put aside their differences to protect the place they loved, and their struggle gave birth to the organisation we now know as Environment Victoria. In the 50 years since, Environment Victoria has been instrumental in placing environmental concerns at the centre of Victorian politics. From political intrigue and industrial espionage to mass protests and creative publicity stunts, People for the Planet reveals for the first time the inside story behind this relentless campaigning for a better world. Covering big achievements for our forests and rivers, and from recycling to renewable energy, it’s also a human story of resilience, determination, heartbreak and exhilaration.

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