The Werribee Toxic Dump – Strategic Planning to
Mobilise a Community
Background to the Werribee Toxic Dump
Harry van Moorst (1999)
In 1995 CSR decided to turn its Werribee quarry into a “prescribed waste landfill”, referred
to by local residents and the media as a “toxic dump”. At the beginning of 1996 the
Minister for Planning, Mr Rob Maclellan, directed CSR to prepare an Environmental
Effects Statement (EES). In March 1996 Werribee residents first learnt of the proposal
and began a lengthy campaign of opposition. This campaign led to an unprecedented
public meeting of 15,000 residents at the Werribee racecourse on a cold Monday evening
in May 1998 which unanimously condemned the proposal. It also led to a major challenge
to traditional industrial waste management policies in Victoria.
At the beginning of the community campaign residents were warned that they would have
little chance of winning: CSR was one of Australia’s largest multinational corporations, and
the Kennett Government was seen as the toughest state government seen in Australia for
some decades. It became a typical ‘David and Goliath’ struggle, with a similar outcome.
Details of the toxic dump proposal
The CSR proposal was to fill the old part of a large quarry hole with prescribed waste
while continuing to quarry at other sections of the site. Prescribed waste is defined by the
EPA as “the most hazardous category of waste. If not managed properly, these wastes
may pose a threat to the life or health of living organisms due to their toxic properties”
(EPA Information Bulletin No. 448, Sept. 1995).
CSR claimed that the facility was needed because the Tullamarine prescribed waste
landfill was due to close and a replacement was required. Opponents argued that CSR
had grossly overestimated the need, ignoring the emphasis on waste minimisation by EPA
policy and ignoring the growing possibilities for alternative recycling and treatment
options. To provide cheap dumping of prescribed waste would be an incentive to continue
to create it.
In its EES CSR claimed that it would dump 120,000 tonnes of prescribed waste into the
double clay-lined quarry hole each year, for 10 to 15 years. It would also construct
Australia’s largest windrow (open mound) composting facility and develop the overall site
as a major ‘waste management facility’.
CSR claimed that the facility would be perfectly safe because it:
• would be protected by a double clay liner and a leachate collection system (this was
later amended to include a plastic membrane for further protection);
• would be ‘world’s best practice’ and ‘state of the art’;
• would accord with all planning and EPA regulations;
• would be monitored by the EPA.