Thursday, 25 September 2008

Pipe protester arrested on own property

"It's a sad day for democracy": Farmer Deb McLeish had the backing of her extended family after being led away by police on her Yea farm yesterday.

LANDOWNERS planning to resist the Brumby Government's controversial north-south pipe were sent a clear message yesterday when a 50-year-old woman was arrested for obstructing the project.

Less than a week since work started on the 70-kilometre pipeline, Yea farmer Deb McLeish was arrested on her own property when she tried to prevent workers from entering her land to perform surveying works.

A group of close to 20 anti-pipe campaigners gathered at Ms McLeish's property as she attempted to defy the Water Act of 1989, which gives pipeline workers legal permission to enter private properties.

Workers used ladders to enter the property as the stand-off with Ms McLeish showed no sign of abating.

Shortly before 2pm Ms McLeish was led away and charged after she again tried to stand in the workers' way.

"It's a sad day for democracy when you get arrested on your own property," she said.

Workers are expected to return to her property as early as this morning, but Ms McLeish said police had warned of stronger charges if she attempted to obstruct workers again today.

Ms McLeish said she wanted to demonstrate that the Government did not have the approval of landowners to carry out works on private land, but Water Minister Tim Holding said access had been given by 85% of landowners along the pipe route.

Melbourne Water said correspondence had been ongoing with Ms McLeish since August last year and the work was rescheduled to today at the landowner's request.

Premier John Brumby urged property owners to accept that pipe workers had a legal right to enter their properties.

"If you look across a map of Victoria there are literally thousands of underground pipelines … and they all access somebody's property," he said.

Mr Brumby also invited Professor Tim Flannery, to inspect the project after he labelled the Government's justification for the plan as "bullshit" during an address in Melbourne on Tuesday night.

Professor Flannery accepted the invitation, saying he was particularly interested in how the Government planned to power the pumping of water through the pipe.

"I'm not entirely knowledgeable about the (pipeline) scheme, but just concerned that it's taking water from an already stressed system," he said.

Melbourne Water will negotiate with power companies to buy about 70,000 megawatt hours of renewable energy each year to offset the power used from the electricity grid to pump the water through the pipe.

Victorian Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu — who earlier this week backflipped on a pledge never to take water through the pipeline to Melbourne — seized on Professor Flannery's comments, saying he had branded the north-south pipeline "a dud".

"Tim Flannery says taking water from a drought-stricken catchment is the wrong thing to do. He said exactly what we have been saying and exactly what we will continue to say," he said.

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