Australia — Fire crews have been granted permission to take water from Victoria’s north-south pipeline, in a move that has raised questions about a Labor MP’s lobbying.
Keen to appease hostile communities north of Melbourne, the State Government says the pipeline will become “an integral part of the state’s firefighting arsenal”.
Government spokesman Matt Nurse said Country Fire Authority crews would be able to tap into the pipe.
But the move has political ramifications, particularly in the town of Yea, which has become the centre of anti-pipeline anger.
The Yea CFA branch is led by Neil Beer, husband of Plug the Pipe’s most prominent member, Jan Beer.
The decision has also raised questions about Labor MP Ben Hardman’s use of the Victorian Parliament, after leaked private letters showed pipeline project director Rod Clifford approved the CFA access almost three weeks before Mr Hard- man lobbied for them in Parliament.
Mr Hardman, whose hold on the seat of Seymour has been threatened by the pipeline, addressed Parliament on September 11, urging Water Minister Tim Holding to allow the CFA access to the pipe.
The Age has obtained letters between Mr Clifford and pipeline stakeholders beginning on August 21, showing Mr Clifford’s endorsement of at least three access locations near Glenburn.
Mr Hardman last night denied the decision was made before he lobbied for the access in Parliament, saying even though he knew hydrants were likely to be installed, he took nothing for granted until Mr Holding’s office announced them.
“I don’t like raising expectations with these sorts of things if there’s no chance of them happening,” he said.
“Until there’s an announcement made it’s not in the bag. Things can change.”
Mr Beer said he had been told four access points would be installed along the northern half of the pipeline, with more on the southern end.
“It would be an advantage, but to be honest, the fact that there are four hydrants there is not going to allow us to put a bushfire out,” he said.
Mrs Beer said she doubted the pipeline would have any water to send to Melbourne, let alone to fight bushfires.
“The local CFA has been blatantly used and abused by this Government,” she said.