Department merger concerns

AN environmental group has raised concerns planned State Government department mergers might see new brown coal projects fast-tracked in the Latrobe Valley.

While the State Government has made no secret of its plans to open up further brown coal reserve allocations for “new investors with the right technology”, last week Friends of the Earth said it feared a dedicated division within a new Department of State Development, Business and Innovation would fast-track the “environmentally damaging developments”.

In particular, Friends of the Earth referred to comments in a statement issued by Premier Denis Napthine which said bringing the Energy and Resources portfolio into DSDBI would enable a “sharper focus on major development opportunities such as Victoria’s coal resources”.

Friends of the Earth campaigns coordinator Cam Walker said any attempt to “open up new coal resources” would be “deeply unpopular and met with sustained opposition”.

On a visit to the Latrobe Valley in February former State Energy and Resources Minister Michael O’Brien said “market engagement” activities aimed at determining the interest of companies in accessing some of the Valley’s brown coal reserves had been “very positive”.

He said the government expected to make an announcement about new licences by mid-year.

Mr Walker said further developing coal in the 21st century would amount to “madness”.

Meanwhile, another government department merger just announced has been welcomed by two state ministers who said the new Department of Environment and Primary Industries would “boost service delivery to regional areas”.

State Agriculture, Food Security and Water Minister Peter Walsh and Environment and Climate Change Minister Ryan Smith said the new department would provide communities with “one-stop shops for land and water management issues”.