Fierce community campaign to stop quarry build comes out on top
16 December 2021 at 8:14 am
But advocates remain concerned about the future of the site
A Victorian charitable trust that funds its community work via mining profits has ditched a plan to open a new quarry, following years of mounting community backlash.
On Friday, the Ross Trust and Hillview Quarries published a statement announcing they were dropping plans to build a fully operational quarry of up to 107 acres on land sitting between two sections of the Arthurs Seat State Park on the Mornington Peninsula, Victoria.
The trust said that it would instead explore a rehabilitation option for the site as part of its ongoing Environment Effects Statement (EES) and rehabilitation requirements that are mandated by the state government.
“The Ross Trust and Hillview Quarries remain committed to pursuing the EES with the specific purpose of finding the right and compliant rehabilitation plan to enable the best possible future use of this site. This is a legal requirement,” the statement said.
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.
The move by Hillview Quarries (which is fully owned and operated by the Ross Trust) to open the new mine back in 2018 was met with severe backlash from community groups, who labelled the plan incompatible with the charity’s mission to enhance biodiversity.
Groups such as the Peninsula Preservation Group (PPG) spearheaded action against the project, launching an online petition opposing the plan that has now collected close to 100,000 signatures.
In March of this year, more than 75 leading organisations and individuals signed an open letter that was later published in The Age, calling for the Ross Trust to withdraw the plans.
Among the signatories were Environment Victoria, Australian Conservation Foundation, former federal Greens leader Bob Brown and actor Stephen Curry.
Major environmental groups that received funding from the Ross Trust, including the Places You Love Alliance, suspended their relationship with the charity due to the proposal.
The Knox Environment Society even returned its full $40,000 grant in protest and donated $1,000 to the anti-quarry campaign.
Dr Mark Fancett, president of the PPG, said the news that the plans to rebuild the quarry were being abandoned came as a “complete surprise”, but was a win for people-power and the environment.
“There will be rejoicing on the Mornington Peninsula today and all across Victoria,” Fancett said.
The conundrum of mining and philanthropy
Fancett suggested the trust’s operating model was outdated.
Set up in 1970 by the will of Roy Ross, a “passionate quarryman and adventurer”, for vver 53 years, the charity has contributed $142 million to support disadvantaged families, children, communities, and projects in the Mornington Peninsula and across Victoria.
These projects have been funded via the profits created from quarry mining.
The Ross Trust said this “should surprise no one” as it had been the organisation’s operating model for over five decades.
“In fact, Australia has a long tradition of industrialists and miners taking up philanthropic causes and contributing widely to supporting vulnerable members of our community and projects to support positive social, cultural, and environmental outcomes,” the statement said.
But Fancett said things had changed.
“Issues such as climate change and biodiversity have really exploded in people’s minds over the past 10-15 years,” he said.
“For the company to just push ahead with the development so they can raise money without considering the environment is really an outdated way to run a business.
“Seeing as they were set up as an environmental trust to protect, protect and preserve flora and fauna, to raise your funds from actually destroying up to 94 acres of bush is just hypocritical.”
Fancett did say that as the campaign grew bigger, there were people that spoke out about the cause that were not connected to PPG.
“We obviously don’t have control over that, so there may be individual cases, but I’m not aware of any,” he said.
Advocates remain sceptical
Fancett said that while it was a win for now, they remained wary of what was to come.
“I think the language in their statement is fairly ambiguous… they said that they’re continuing with the EES, but they’re stopping the quarry proposal, which to us, is very confusing,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Ross Trust told Pro Bono News that the organisation had started discussions with the Victorian government on the future of the site.
“We have now started discussions with the Victorian government on how we can work with them to plan and prepare for the best future use options for the site,” the spokesperson said.
“As part of the EES process we will continue to work alongside the community, our stakeholders, and the Victorian government to explore a rehabilitation plan that will ensure the future use of the site.”
Fancett said that they were now waiting for an explanation on where the project is headed, but he said PPG were willing to work with the trust to ensure the best outcome for the community was achieved.
“They are obviously not happy that their proposal has been stopped. But we’re willing to move past that, and we’re more than willing to work with the trust and in the future and make a fresh start and get the best outcome for the community,” he said.