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Author: Mark Hawthorne
Date: 18th of April 2016

Welcome to Melbourne, where the rich and powerful battle over garbage.

When you are building one of the biggest rubbish dumps in the world, it makes sense the fight is going to get dirty. Welcome to Melbourne, where the rich and powerful are battling over how a metropolis will dispose of its garbage for generations.

Waste management giant Cleanaway has applied to triple the size of its Ravenhall landfill site in Melbourne’s outer west to 450 hectares, making it the biggest landfill on the planet. The local council opposed the plan, and now Planning Minister Richard Wynne will have to make a call on the project. At stake is not just the future of Melbourne’s growing garbage issues, but also hundreds of millions of dollars.

Richard Wynne inherited the world’s most livable city… now has to work out what his legacy as planning minister will be. A better city, or the world’s biggest tip.

Under the proposal, the Andrews government stands to make $97.5 million a year in landfill fees from Ravenhall, money that is desperately needed by a government trying to fund simultaneous infrastructure projects.

Documents reveal the state government won’t be the only winner. Some of the country’s biggest industry superannuation funds – many with close ties to the unions and the ALP – own large stakes in Cleanaway, which bought the Ravenhall site from Boral last year.

Many of those shares are tucked away in a nominee account held with investment company Perpetual, which owns 13.25 per cent of Cleanaway. Documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal that Perpetual holds Cleanaway shares on behalf of many industry super funds, including CBUS, HESTA, HostPlus, TWU Superannuation, Media Super and Health Super.

The ties between super funds, Labor and the unions have long been scrutinised in Australia.

A number of top-ranking union officials are on the boards of Cleanaway’s super fund investors. The chairman of CBUS, for example, is former Victorian premier Steve Bracks.

It’s little wonder that some in the ALP say they are “feeling the heat” to approve the project, but some are making a stand.

Local Labor MP Marlele Kairouz has called for the “complete abandonment” of the project. In a letter drafted just before Christmas, Ms Kairouz said the Ravenhall tip expansion was “based on significant consultation with landfill operators without any detail of how the waste industry has been independently analysed.”


Ms Kairouz also highlighted that no alternatives to landfill had been explored.

There are many sympathetic ears among her colleagues. “We are screwed if we do and screwed if we don’t on Ravenhall,” said one Labor MP, who wanted to remain anonymous. “The fact is, we need to do something about Melbourne’s garbage, and no-one wants a tip in their backyard. But why we would countenance this idea, and not even consider waste-to-energy alternatives, is beyond me.”

While Cleanaway shareholders stand to benefit if Ravenhall is expanded, they are not the only ones with skin in the game.

Planning department insiders highlight the fact the “not in my backyard” campaign from local residents is slick and well organised. Property developers own large tracts of land around the planned tip site, the value of which would drop should the expansion go ahead. Fairfax Media has previously reported that Mount Atkinson Holdings, which owns land next to the planned tip site, engaged the services of lobbyist firm The Civic Group, which is the registered owner of the website. Landowners have joined forces with the already vociferous local community to fight the tip.

Stuck in the middle of this spat is the populace of Melbourne, which is expected to reach 8 million by the year 2050 and become Australia’s biggest city.

If expanded, Ravenhall will be able to accept 1.5 million tonnes of landfill each year. To feed it, an additional fleet of 24 B-double trucks, each 26 metres long, will cross the city, bringing garbage from transfer stations as far away as Clayton and Dandenong, and along the city’s already congested routes, such as the Monash Freeway. The 130-kilometre round trip will traverse suburbs including Mt Waverley, Malvern, South Melbourne, Richmond and Sunshine, and run every 10 minutes between 4am and 4pm.

It’s a vision that troubles Jason Pugh, of Perth-based New Energy Group, which has just won contracts to turn garbage into electricity in WA. A site at Port Hedland will turn 130,000 tonnes of rubbish a year into 9MW of energy. A second site at East Rockingham will convert 225,000 tonnes of waste per annum.

“Landfilling is the least desirable outcome for waste management,” Mr Pugh said. “All they [politicians] see is garbage. What I see is energy.”

According to Mr Pugh, it would be possible to build smaller waste-to-energy sites around Melbourne, turning garbage into electricity, rather than landfill, using gas turbine technology

Burning landfill compares favourably with brown coal, in terms of carbon dioxide output per megawatt. “When you factor in the long-term impacts of methane from landfill, which is much worse for the environment that carbon dioxide, and trucks off the road, then burning landfill is even more competitive when compared with coal,” said Mr Pugh.

Sadly for Melburnians, such ideas are off the table. Ravenhall is one of three landfill sites on the city’s fringe slated as potential landfill. The other two are in Werribee and Wollert.

The state government did not answer questions about alternatives to landfill for the city’s waste disposal needs. Instead, a spokeswoman for the planning minister provided a statement. “The application is complex and we will take the time needed for the expansion to be properly and independently assessed,” it read, in part.

In the end, it was left to a Labor MP to sum up the bind the planning department is in. “Richard Wynne inherited the world’s most livable city,” Fairfax Media was told. “He now has to work out what his legacy as planning minister will be. A better city, or the world’s biggest tip.”


Read article at The Sydney Morning Herald