‘It is breathtaking hypocrisy’: Charity faces severe backlash over quarry plan
18 March 2021 at 5:42 pm
More than 75 organisations and individuals have signed an open letter calling on the Ross Trust to withdraw plans to open a new quarry at Arthurs Seat
A Victorian charitable trust’s plans to fund its grant activities by building a new quarry on the Mornington Peninsula has come under fire from community groups, who say this is incompatible with the charity’s mission to enhance biodiversity.
Hillview Quarries – which is fully owned and operated by the Ross Trust – is seeking state government approval to open a new quarry of up to 107 acres on land sitting between two sections of the Arthurs Seat State Park.
More than 75 leading organisations and individuals have signed an open letter, to be published in The Age on Friday, calling for the Ross Trust to withdraw these plans.
Among the signatories are Environment Victoria, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), former federal Greens leader Bob Brown and actor Stephen Curry.
There is also an online petition opposing the plan with more than 41,000 signatures.
Advocates say the new quarry would destroy 94 acres of bushland, cause habitat loss for 28 endangered or threatened species, and gouge 70 million tonnes of rock from Arthurs Seat.
The Ross Trust, which uses 100 per cent of the net profits from Hillview Quarries to fund its grants, said “it strives to achieve a balance between the financial and infrastructure benefits offered by Hillview Quarries with the imperative for biodiversity conservation”.
Hillview Quarries has been operating out of Dromana for more than five decades, but it stated on the project website that it needs to relocate as reserves dwindle at its current site.
But Dr Mark Fancett, president of the Peninsula Preservation Group (PPG), said it was unconscionable for the trust to fund its philanthropic operations through the destruction of an important wildlife area.
“Given that the trust’s mission is to enhance biodiversity, it is breathtaking hypocrisy for the trust to seek to fund its activities by bulldozing remnant bush and destroying a critical wildlife corridor that is an irreplaceable koala, bird and small mammal habitat,” Fancett said.
“The Ross Trust can be a philanthropic charity focused on conservation or it can be the developer of a new open cut mine: it can’t be both. It’s the trust’s responsibility to leave a better legacy for the Victorian community.”
Adding to the backlash, major environmental groups that have received funding from the Ross Trust including the Places You Love Alliance have suspended their relationship with the charity due to the proposal.
The Knox Environment Society has even returned its full $40,000 grant in protest and donated $1,000 to the anti-quarry campaign.
Fancett told Pro Bono News that advocates have met with several trustees over the past two years.
He said their responses indicated they were only concerned about keeping the trust going, believing it was the easiest way to make money with the land they owned.
“We wanted to shine a light on this [and make it clear] they can’t sign off on this without there being some consequences,” he said.
“This has the potential to be Victoria’s own Juukan Gorge, and we know what happened with Rio Tinto. The community is not going to stand for it.”
Fancett said these actions went against the vision of trust benefactor Roy Ross, who said in his will the trust would donate funds for “the acquisition, preservation and maintenance of national and public parks”.
He urged the trust to find another more sustainably focused investment strategy.
“We really encourage them to withdraw this plan. They have huge resources and assets of over $60 million,” he said.
“There are lots of other options that they can use to maintain the good work that they do.”
In a joint statement provided to Pro Bono News on behalf of the Ross Trust and Hillview Quarries, they said they had “a proud history of supporting many causes including environmental projects and preservation of the natural environment”.
The statement said the trust has previously gifted some 170 hectares of land in Dromana to incorporate into the Arthurs Seat State Park, and provided more than $139 million in grants to support projects in areas including the environment and biodiversity.
They said Hillview Quarries was currently in the very early stages of an environmental effects statement (EES) process to investigate future operations at its existing quarry site.
“The site under investigation has supplied the Mornington Peninsula and South East Melbourne growth corridors since the 1960s. The size of the quarry footprint is yet to be determined and forms part of the proposal for the EES,” the statement said.
“Hillview Quarries has been actively and openly consulting with the community throughout this process and will continue to keep the community informed over the coming years.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that ACF and Environmental Justice Australia have received funding from the Ross Trust and have suspended their relationship with the charity. The reference to these groups has been removed to reflect that ACF has not had a grant with Ross Trust since 2017 and that EJA’s funding cycle with the Ross Trust is about to end, and they will not be seeking further funding from the trust.