Not even Belinda Baggs expected to get the news early this morning.
“I was still in bed when the phone rang and I was like, ‘What the hell? Am I dreaming? What's going on?’” Bindy has spent much of the past three years working on the campaign to prevent her home coastline off Newcastle from being developed as an offshore gas field, a campaign that at times has been all-consuming. The news she’d won took a while to sink in. She put the phone down, took a moment, then went for a swim at one of the beaches she’d just helped save. “I was overwhelmed in a lot of ways, but it was definitely a celebration.”
Overnight the news had broken that the Federal Government would not be renewing the PEP11 gas exploration permit. “It absolutely came out of nowhere,” says Bindy of the news. “We all knew that eventually this plan had to die and I'm actually surprised that it dragged on for as many years as it did. But definitely, today's announcement came out of the blue considering that everything else we'd heard for the past year had been about the project pushing along.”
The PEP11 issue had been in a strange limbo for most of the year. The actual permit lapsed back in February, and federal Resources Minister Keith Pitt didn’t renew it. But all that time, the companies holding the permit – Advent Energy and Bounty Oil and Gas – were pushing ahead with their plans to drill. “I think they try and make it a mess so everybody gets confused and loses interest,” says Bindy of the issue. “For me personally, I was just hearing one piece of bad news after another.”
Behind the decision of the federal government to scrap the permit today was the looming election, and the huge community opposition threatening to make PEP11 an important election issue. The government has several seats facing the PEP11 zone, including marginal seats. They’d shown no interest in stopping PEP11 up till now – even voting down a bill to stop it – but facing challenges from a number of independent candidates campaigning strongly on climate, their hand was forced.
“It just shows you that when this community stands up, we can actually create some positive change,” offers Bindy, whose own enviro group Surfers For Climate joined fellow Patagonia enviro grantees Surfrider Australia and Save Our Coast to spark a strong movement. “I's just testament I think, as more of us have gotten on board we’ve shown that they had no choice but to listen to us. We eventually climbed over the walls.”
The significance of just how big today’s win was is only just settling in with Bindy. “It's now the second petroleum industry giant that we’ve taken down, but this one was a bit different. The Fight For The Bight was Equinor pulling out, the company itself pulling out. But I think this is quite significant in the sense that it was a decision made by our government. It goes to show that with enough of us on board, especially coming up to a key election time, we can make a difference. They want our votes.”
“That's another place I call home and we're not going to stop now. We've got this momentum behind us.” – Belinda Baggs
Bindy hasn’t had time to celebrate. She spent the morning attending the AGM of a major bank, asking a question from the floor why they were funding more offshore gas development down in the Otway Basin. “There's shit popping up all over the country,” she says of Australia’s rampant gas development. “We've got the Otway Basin, numerous other projects in Western Australia and the Northern Territory and so on. But you know, my sight’s now set on protecting the Great Ocean Road. That's another place I call home and we're not going to stop now. We've got this momentum behind us.”
She does however reminisce back to 2018, when she turned up in Newcastle to screen Patagonia’s enviro-surf movie, Never Town and discuss the PEP11 issue, which few local people had heard about at that stage. “I think Never Town actually played a big part in rallying young people to kind of get around the issue. I spoke to a few people like Drew [McPherson] that night, and he hadn't really heard of PEP11. He got dragged along to watch a surf movie with some of his friends and next minute he's a campaigner for Save Our Coast. We then made a short PEP11 film, South Fish and Ziggy Alberts screened it at his concert in Sydney. There was a schoolgirl from Newcastle there that night, Asha Niddrie who saw that film and was like, ‘Where do I sign up?’ She became one of the leaders of the campaign.”
Having grown up on the Newcastle coastline, this one was personal for Bindy. “All the way I’ve been, like, not on my watch. This is not going to happen. This was heartfelt all the way, and I was always going to step up and do all I could to protect the coastline that made me who I am.”