Last week our hard-fought campaign to keep Victoria Gasfield Free won the Premiers Sustainability Award for Environmental Justice.
Chloe Aldenhoven gave a rousing acceptance speech on the night:
“Thanks so much for this award.
Ursula, Cam, Alison and I from Friends of the Earth are here to collect this award, but we collect on behalf of tens of thousands of Victorians who were part of this movement.
Millions of hectares of licenses for the exploration of unconventional gas were released in Victoria back in 2010, when stories were only emerging from the United States and Queensland about the potential negative impacts of the industry.
We heard from farmers in the Darling Downs who had water and soil contaminated by the industry. Their kids were experiencing seizures that have been linked to the chemical pollutants from coal seam gas wells. They can’t sell their land and are forced to live on it to this day. They told us we would have to stick together, make sure they don’t get a foothold anywhere, and be brave.
That bravery took on different faces. Ursula and I remember when a dairy farmer from Seaspray first sat down at her kitchen table in Warragul in tears, thinking the onslaught of the industry was inevitable.
That there was nothing she could do about it.
That her neighbours would probably give in for the money, leaving them with no option but to do the same.
These were unlikely activists. For many the first act of bravery was sticking their neck out to hold a town hall meeting on what they worried would be a divisive issue amongst their community. For others it was picking up the phone to call the radio, doing a TV interview. For some it was holding up a banner at a protest when they’d never done anything like it. For some it was facing the possibility of a blockade. For nearly everybody it was to keep going when we knew the odds were against us, when we were fighting a multi-billion dollar, international industry that had already torn up communities in Australia and overseas.
A huge number of people leaped right out of their comfort zones to form one of the greatest social and environmental movements this state has seen. The movement swept across the state, comprehensively democratically declaring region by region gasfield free, kicking off what could have been called a five year state-wide festival of creative and strategic action and all the while remaining non-violent but non-negotiable.
For us it was an amazing privilege and joy to be work with these communities. Friends of the Earth and the conservative farming communities of Gippsland and the western districts seem unlikely bedfellows, but in this movement people came together across the political spectrum, put aside their differences to work together to protect land, water and what we have for future generations. These were the values that brought together greenies and farmers, townies, teachers, business owners, workers, the whole lot.
Everyone in this room knows the scale of the environmental crises we’re facing, and we think the gasfield free movement in Victoria showed us exactly what we need to be doing to face up to these challenges. We need people to take up the challenge of being part of our democratic processes, to find common ground and work together on our shared values, to take back control of our political system from the fossil fuel industry and other environmental and social villains, and to transform our society to bring us back to the values of health, community and protecting what we have for future generations.
Special thanks to Cam Walker, stalwart of Friends of the Earth and the heart of this campaign, who kicked off this movement and so many others.
And thanks to all the communities across Victoria and Australia who were mad and courageous enough to stand up, work together and win one of the most comprehensive bans on onshore gas anywhere. People power can, and will, do it. You’re an inspiration to the world.”