Just a week out from the election, Queensland Coalition MP Luke Howarth announced $2 million for a new pool at the Mango Hill State Secondary College in his electorate of Petrie. Yet the local community didn’t want the pool because of concerns about the cost and space required.
And then there was the $1.5 million that Health Minister Greg Hunt promised, if re-elected, to restore Mt Martha North beach in his electorate of Flinders. His plan, announced two weeks before the May 2019 federal election, included transferring truckloads of sand from the Southern to the Northern end of the beach.
Some 100 or so beach boxes at the northern end, some of which sell for more than $70,000, are at risk from the disappearing beach and encroaching water.
As a previous environment minister, Hunt would – or should – be aware of all the international studies about the environmental impact of moving sand.
It is predicted that almost half the world’s sandy beaches will have retreated significantly by the end of the century. Researchers attribute the loss of sand to climate change. They estimate 63% of low-lying coastal regions worldwide will be threatened by the end of the century.
Minister Hunt should also have known that numerous local studies had shown conclusively that moving sand is, at best, a temporary fix.
Victoria heeds science
In fact, just three months after Hunt’s election announcement, an independent report commissioned by the Victorian state government showed that saving the beach was a lost cause. None of the options would restore sand or prevent erosion in the short or long-term along the entirety of the beach.
A spokeswoman for Lily D’Ambrosio, Victorian Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change said the Victorian Government had allocated funding to tackle erosion at Mount Martha North, and if any of the engineering options in the report had been found to be feasible and effective, they would have been implemented.
A spokesman for Minister Hunt said: “The modelling on page 45 of Water Technology’s Mount Martha North Options Analysis report reaffirms that renourishment, when combined with a permanent engineering solution, performs better than renourishment alone in regards to the conservation of terrestrial values, conservation of cultural heritage and effectiveness of preventing beach erosion.”
However, as the independent report noted, there is no permanent engineering solution.
Three weeks ago, keeping faith with Hunt’s election commitment, the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) started the “beach renourishment” project.
The aim was to deliver 10,000 cubic metres of sand to Mount Martha North Beach. Residents were told this sand relocation program might last up to five years.
However, after moving a few truckloads of sand, storms “relocated” this sand back into the water.
According to an update to residents from DELWP:
“Unfortunately plans to make use of the 2,000 – 3,000 cubic metres of sand that had been stockpiled at Balcombe Creek…has been washed away following the weekend storm with flood flows from Balcombe Creek, high sea levels and large waves.”
This would be funny if it were not taxpayers’ money that was being poured into Port Phillip Bay.
Soon after Hunt’s announcement of the beach renourishment, I bumped into Minister Hunt and one of his Liberal state colleagues, Edward O’Donohue, exercising in a local park. I questioned the misuse of taxpayers’ money, asking: “Does your government ever listen to science?”
Minister Hunt described his plans for “revetment” and “sand replenishment”, to which I replied “pork barrelling” and “climate change”. O’Donohue later described my manner has “hostile” and “confrontational” because I “spoke in an unnecessarily loud voice”. Surely wasting $1.5 million of public money is something to shout about.
Disregarding the evidence
In 1990 Minister Hunt co-authored a university research paper entitled A Tax to Make the Polluter Pay.
He surely understands that beach erosion is largely caused by changes in weather patterns and sea currents.
The State Government’s Marine and Coastal policy states:
“The state government and Crown land managers do not have an obligation to manage marine and coastal Crown land or coastal processes for the primary purpose of protecting private property.”
My family has had a beach box on North Mt Martha beach since 1935. Unlike some owners, I do not expect the government to save my beach box. There are many worthy issues competing for government money. A bunch of privileged people who own a beach box is not one of them.
Over my lifetime, the sand on Mt Martha North beach has waxed and waned: the westerly winds bring sand in summer and the northerlies take it away in winter. Unlike the recent catastrophic storms that recently washed away the sand on Byron Bay’s main beach, our beach has seen a gradual decline. This decline corresponds with global changes in weather patterns.
Losing sand in some communities will seriously affect people’s homes and livelihoods. To say nothing of the disastrous effects of climate change.
The government’s focus should be on protecting our beaches, not our beach boxes. This requires action on climate change. A tax to make the polluter pay, a policy for which Minister Hunt argued when he was at university, would have been a good start.
Dr Sarah Russell is a public health researcher who specialises in qualitative research. She has been the Principal Researcher at Research Matters since 1999. She is also the Director, Aged Care Matters. She believes the aged care system requires greater scrutiny, accountability and transparency.