Advocacy group flares up

A petition addressed to the State Energy and Resources Minister is calling for the enforcement of comprehensive fire protection measures in the Hazelwood mine.

The Latrobe Valley 1st group – a grassroots political advocacy movement putting a spotlight on local issues in the lead up to the state election – has raised concerns after a 50-metre hot spot flared up in the open-cut mine late last month on a “very cold and extremely windy day”.

“Since the major fire disaster that burnt for 45 days, no assurance has been given to local residents that another similar disaster can’t occur again this fire season,” the petition said.

“We call on you to enforce comprehensive fire protection measures in the mine – require GDF SUEZ to reinstate whatever additional sprinkler systems are needed throughout the mine and implement urgent remediation of the disused sections of the mine”.

Latrobe Valley 1st spokeswoman Tracie Lund said she did not have the exact numbers, but the petition released last week had more than 4000 signatures.

Ms Lund, who has run nine ‘kitchen table conversations’ within the Morwell electorate in the lead-up to gauge community issues, said mine fire safety had come up during every discussion.

“The community understand there’s a mine there, but don’t understand why precautions weren’t taken to ensure the town and the area’s safety,” Ms Lund said.

“The recent flare-up generated fear again, with residents saying ‘If this is happening in winter, what will happen in summer?’ I understand spot fires are common, but there needs to be some education around this for the community.

“There has been no direct information about what is being done in terms of safety precautions in the mine.”

Ms Lund said she also understood many were waiting for the Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry to hand down its findings, but the community needed information about what was being done prior to the summer fire season.

“After all it’s been through, the community deserves some dialogue around this. They need some tangible information that sets out a plan.

“People tell me how much they love the Latrobe Valley, the people, the area, the diversity, but they’re fearful of their safety.”

Energy and Resources Minister Russell Northe said members of the community had the right to present petitions to their members of Parliament.

“It should be noted that the ongoing handling of the Hazelwood mine fire is being managed by GDF SUEZ with well-resourced support from the CFA,” Mr Northe said.

“The Victorian Government will continue to ensure the CFA is well-resourced and supported to carry out any necessary activities.

“There is currently an independent inquiry underway and we will await the outcomes and recommendations before commenting on any decisions in relation to the situation.”