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Coastal campaigners look to ride big wave of worry over gas, oil plans

Source: The Age

As massive waves and the world’s best surfers descended on Bells Beach this week, Damien Cole seized the chance to draw attention to his cause.

The Surfrider Foundation ambassador and independent candidate for the coastal Corangamite electorate is on a mission to fight plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

He harnessed attention on the Rip Curl Pro surfing contest and recruited professional surfers, including John John Florence and Owen Wright to his environmental fight.

Australia’s best-known surfing contest and the federal election was a perfect storm for Mr Cole who has organised protests, most recently in Torquay, against the drilling proposal.

“It’s come at a time during this election campaign where our communities are worried. For them this is definitely a huge issue. It could really affect our way of life, our coast, our communities,” he told The Age.

Victorians know the state is gripped by drought and many are calling for stronger action on climate change.

'If you're not going to represent us, we're not going to elect you.' As the message of surfers defending the Great Australian Bight is clear, Independent candidate for Corangamite Damien Cole saw an opportunity.

But it is the health of the coastline that is also exercising voters’ minds in key seaside electorates.

Mr Cole insists his Surfrider ambassadorial role is apolitical and separate from his campaign to win the ultra-marginal and Liberal-held Corangamite electorate, which lies south-west of Melbourne.

But his campaign against oil wells in the bight has made a big splash, forcing his political opponents to take notice.

Corangamite MP Sarah Henderson is also trying to ride the wave of community anger over the bight drilling plans.

Last weekend she donned a wetsuit and joined surfers at the Torquay protest, even though her appearance pits her against government colleagues who support oil exploration.

Ms Henderson, who is defending her seat on a paper-thin 0.03 per cent margin, insists she is committed to coastal preservation but clearly regarded her attendance at the protest as crucial to holding her seat.

“Our natural environment including our pristine oceans is something Sarah will always stand for and always fight for,” her spokeswoman says.

Labor’s Corangamite candidate Libby Coker stresses she is committed to coastal protection although she did not accept an invitation to attend the Torquay protest.

Andrew Cherubin, president of Torquay residents group 3228, says Corangamite voters fear a repeat of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico nine years ago.

“The new younger generation can see what’s going on and they can see that it’s their future and they’re scared,” he says.

Full story: “Coastal campaigners look to ride big wave of worry over gas, oil plans”, The Age, 26 April