Rock Solid Unity

By on April 5, 2022

Conundrum Holdings, a founding Member of CMPA, provides an update on tripartism support for the extractive industry in their 15 year (and counting) quest for a hard rock quarry approval.

Just like proving a new rock resource or pulling up a core sample brimming with potential, the extractive industry has unearthed a couple of new champions. And these emerging voices are long overdue, and much needed right now, as the small to medium sized family businesses in the sector face an uncertain future.

The Liberal Democrat MLC for Northern Victoria, Mr Tim Quilty, took the quarrying industry cause to Victorian Parliament last month with an adjournment matter aimed at the Minister for Planning. And while the ambition is to outline a wide reaching and broad recognition of the vital role quarries and quarry materials play in delivering the life we lead today, his immediate focus is on Conundrum Holdings’ 15 year-long application for the new North Central Quarry and the increasingly unfair treatment at the hands of the local government authority, the Mitchell Shire Council.

And Mr Quilty did not miss: “….. the Mitchell Shire Council sent out quarry hate mail with their rates notices…. they open with the headline ‘Tell Minister Wynne to put quarry in bin’…… This is an appalling use of ratepayers’ funds. We have seen hundreds of ratepayers who support the quarry and its economic benefits for Melbourne and northern Victoria.”

“As the Minister for Planning, Mr Wynne should appreciate as much as I do—as apparently the Libs do not—the value that small to medium-sized quarries such as the one proposed at Wallan bring to our state, particularly in terms of planning, growth and development.”

Straight to the point – and in a refreshing unilateral exchange, instead of the quarry industry becoming its regular nimby political football kicked around by those with no idea of the impact, the response from the appropriate Victorian Government minister showed insight into the gravity of the situation.

Amongst her many portfolios the Hon. Jaala Pulford MP is the Minister for Resources, and her government knows their much vaunted ‘Big Build’ is sitting on a knife edge with rock reserves fast depleting in existing quarries.

“I just wanted to reflect on your (Mr Quilty’s) comments … Everybody loves a level crossing removal project, and everybody loves a freeway upgrade. There is nothing quite as exciting as moving into a new home. These materials do not come from thin air, and so providing certainty for our quarrying industry is really important and is something I am very committed to doing.”

“So I concur with many of the sentiments that you expressed in your contribution on behalf of one business in particular, but I think the same can be said of these businesses, many of which are small businesses, right across the state that do an incredibly important job in keeping the rest of us moving around and doing the things that we want to do.”

CMPA General Manager Dr Elizabeth Gibson agrees this unified parliamentary approach is long overdue:

“It is very important to have a voice in parliament that presents a positive picture of the industry as per Mr Quilty and the response for Ms Pulford Minister for Resources. The State Government at very senior levels is well aware of the importance of quarries in private and public infrastructure development, however, difficulties arise in
balancing the needs of the State versus vocal minorities especially in an election year.”

Conundrum Holdings’ MD and industry veteran Ron Kerr understands the broader picture, and while accepting his own multi-generational business is driving this particular agenda, thanks the MLC for his support and believes Quilty’s influence will be wide reaching.

“He joins a growing chorus within our community demanding answers from the Mitchell Shire Council, who are using municipal funds to instigate stalling tactics, promoting unethical slogans, handing out ratepayer funded t-shirts to a favoured minority, issuing ‘hate mail’ and erecting dubious signage. Not to mention the hundreds of work hours by council staff, external experts, and ongoing legal costs.”

“People need to be asking why the extractive industries, and our application, are being targeted by the Shire. Things most of us would believe the State has under its control are being run by a selfish local council strategic planning agenda.”

Quilty also took the opportunity for a broadside against rogue Liberal MP Craig Ondarchie who continues to attack the extractive industry. This was backed up by The Hon. Richard Riordan MP, who is himself part of a multi-generational quarrying family, after meeting with the Kerr family on-site at their existing Epping quarry. The Liberal Member for Polwarth knowing first-hand the importance of maximising resources to serve Victoria and all Victorians, and confirming the Conundrum mantra of social, financial and environmental responsibility.

“These resources that we are lucky enough to have here in Victoria are world leading, and as a society, as a state, as a country we have a responsibility to manage and sustain those resources in a way that benefits Victoria most.”

“Increasingly we have a tension that continues to dominate the way we are thinking, where we do not want to exploit the resources in our own backyard. This thinking over time needs to change.”

“The reason it needs to change is because we as a modern, First World economy consume resources. We consume resources to eat each day, we consume resources to grow our towns and our cities, we consume resources to build better roads and make our community better.”

SITE PHOTO: The resource at North Central Quarry was identified by the State prior to 1996, proven by the applicant in 2006 (photo shows diamond core drilling activity at drill hole one), documented as a future asset by Victorian Planning Authority in 2009 and issued a Work Authority number WA1473 in 2011, then being endorsed in 2015.
| Photo 2006.

“When we do not use those resources that are closest to us, the ones that are most accessible, it in fact costs us more— but worse still, we abrogate our responsibility to manage that resource development to other states, other economies and other countries. That is not good enough. As a country we have a moral responsibility to manage our resources.”

And Quilty must be doing something right as the rabid anti-quarry councillors and members of the Mitchell Shire executive, now labelled as the ‘shameful shire,’ could hardly control their unhinged hostility after he
called out their actions.

Given their unbalanced approach Mitchell Shire are now bringing down upon all LGA’s a wider argument – should local councils be able to hold the extractive industry (and the needs of the state) hostage to a small group?

Dr Gibson says no:

“A decision needs to be made in State Government that are in the best interests of a vibrant Victorian economy as opposed to a small group in a local LGA stymieing new quarries or expansion of existing quarries.”

The paralysis inflicted by ongoing and expanding red-tape that confronts any new extractive enterprise is forcing long-term operators to shut and is crippling the sector.
In the previous edition of this magazine, we outlined how the ever-increasing and self-justifying bureaucracy, environmental and cultural procedures have forced Chris Ryan Earthmoving to close its doors after 30+ years, as Chris explains:

“We’ve had to put off three workers and sell two trucks but ultimately, we have really had enough of the red tape involved in starting a new pit or applying for a variation. Once you decide to dig a hole in the ground, you put a target on your back and every government department that can trip you up will have a crack at doing it – that’s the way it seems.”

Dr Gibson agrees the extractive industry is contracting, with a range of skilled and experienced workers and exemplary business operators leaving the sector. But so far, the pleas for government support, clarity around process and streamlined applications have all fallen on deaf ears. The reality now is starting to bite, and Quilty has been one of the first at Spring
Street to genuinely realise that if this vital industry is allowed to just disappear in free fall, then that will cripple the state and send costs skyrocketing:

“Life is tough enough for extractive industries ….we need less restrictions, not more, to bring down the costs and create jobs. … without quarries to extract these resources, where will our new houses, foundations, roads, and bridges come from? Will we have them flat-packed to us from China? “

“The action I seek is for the minister to publicly endorse and affirm his support for this quarry as well as all quarries in Victoria. Quarries provide the state with the resources needed to meet our current and future development needs….are an essential part of our economy. You cannot purport to be a party of government when you are calling to shut down industries we need for jobs and buildings.”

The dire forecast has been known for a long time – the Victorian Government released its ‘Extractive Resources Strategy’ document five years ago, with these words from Treasurer Tim Pallas.

“We must act now to secure our extractive resources: the sand, rock, gravel and clay that will be used to make the bricks, concrete, buildings and roads of tomorrow. Otherwise, we risk building over these crucial resources, and they will become inaccessible. That’s why we have developed Victoria’s first Extractive Resources Strategy.”

“This new strategic approach will be key to helping Victoria grow. Failure to ensure that a sufficient supply of extractive resources is available within close proximity to our growth areas and infrastructure projects will likely increase the cost of constructing houses and infrastructure.”

But as the saying goes ‘When everything is said and done, there is more said than done.’ Put simply, now is the time for the State Government to come good on its rhetoric, and hopefully Mr Quilty, Ms Pulford and Mr Riordan can lead the charge in the corridors that matter most.

These calls for action and change from the new champions are positive news for the industry and need to be supported and promoted, as readily available resources (with a responsible carbon footprint) are fast diminishing and self-centred, shortsighted opposition continues to rise.

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