The blockaders at the Tara residential estate claimed a victory today in their campaign to stop QGC (British Gas) from building a pipeline on to their estate.
The police have packed up and left, telling the protest group this was a "civil matter now". QGC have stopped all work on the pipeline.
The turning point came when lawyers acting for local landowner Bryce Keating, on whose land the blockade is occurring, sent a letter to QGC complaining that the company had breached its agreement with him by clearing vegetation for a road wider than the 20 metres stated in their contract.
It subsequently emerged that QGC was also in breach of clause G6 of its environmental authority (EA) which specifies that it cannot clear more than a corridor width of 10 metres of remnant (old growth) bushland. Most, if not all, of Mr Keating's property where the corridors are located or planned contain remnant bushland and are as much as 40 metres wide. (Photos of this are available on request.)
Friends of the Earth spokesperson and blockade participant Drew Hutton said this was an 'uh-oh' moment for QGC.
"They suddenly realised that, if they have breached their EA on this pipeline, then they might be similarly in breach in many other areas," Mr Hutton said.
Mr Hutton said his group had laid a complaint with the environmental regulator and he called on the State Government to close down this pipeline and any other QGC project where it had similarly breached its environmental authority.
Mr Hutton was also critical of the ongoing behaviour of QGC.
"QGC has never treated landowners with the proper amount of respect and, in fact, with the police gone from the area, they are using their security as paramilitaries. These burly young men are driving around the Tara estate, shadowing residents and generally acting in an intimidatory manner," Mr Hutton said.
"I intend to lay a complaint about this with the police first thing on Monday morning."
The Tara blockade will continue and when Mr Hutton appears in court on 13 April on a charge of obstructing QGC, he will be arguing that he was there at the invitation of the landowner with a 'reasonable excuse' for obstructing the company.
"A legal victory here would right the imbalance between the powers of big mining companies like British Gas and landowners, even the poorest ones like some on the Tara estate," Mr Hutton said.