Gippsland egg farmer wants community


Forster at his home and egg farm near Traralgon.

“My body, my choice,” says Gregory Forster, United Australia Party’s first federal candidate for Gippsland, at his home and egg farm near Traralgon.

These words have taken on a new meaning during the coronavirus pandemic.

A Melburnian “born and bred”, Forster found city living didn’t agree with him. He completed a degree at the Dookie Agricultural College and eventually made his home in Gippsland, a National Party stronghold.

Forster says that divisiveness is driving today’s politics and that he wants politicians to work on bringing people together more, especially on a local level.

Greater accountability

The qualities I’d like to see are politicians representing the community better,” he says. “What I’d like to see is representatives working with the community to identify what the priorities for the communities are, then determine what the top priorities are across the electorate and that provides a sense of accountability.”

A self-described libertarian, Forster decided to run for federal office when the Victorian Government enforced COVID-19 vaccine mandates for a range of workers, a move he describes as authoritarian.

In October 2021, the state government announced that certain employees who wanted to continue working onsite must prove that they have had at least two doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

In April this year, Health Minister Martin Foley relaxed many COVID-19 rules but announced that mandates would be retained with a view to a gradual transition away from vaccine requirements for workers.

In effect, this means that an unvaccinated person can patronise a business, but not necessarily work for it.

“’My body, my choice’ makes sense to me because it’s my responsibility, I’m accountable for it, I’m liable for the decisions that I make to this body of mine, that makes sense to me,” Forster says. “Not government’s choice … that’s just wrong. It’s immoral in my eyes.”

More than 11.6 billion COVID-19 vaccines have been administered throughout the world, with 57.5 million doses in Australia up until the end of April, according to Bloomberg and while there have been some concerns surrounding side effects, authorities stress that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

“I think we also need to remember that the point of the Nationals is free choice, and I don’t believe we have had a strong advocate for free choice in this electorate,” Forster says of the Nationals incumbent Darren Chester.

Green energy sceptic

A new ‘Renewable Energy Park’ has been proposed for Gippsland, with the Coalition announcing the development in March. The plan is to combine solar, wind, battery storage and, potentially, clean hydrogen, and the federal government has pledged $8.5 million to the project.

Forster voices scepticism, saying that the public doesn’t have enough information on green energy, how it is produced and the potential costs of a transition to this sector.

“People need to survive, they need to pay their bills so if there are transitions that need to be made, they need to be made wisely and carefully so that we don’t end up risking people’s incomes and the quality of energy supply,” he says.

Forster says that blackouts are common in his area and a prime example of why Gippsland needs a reliable energy source for the long term. Transition to green energy, he says, is a “nuanced issue that needs to be discussed openly and transparently.”

Wendy Farmer, president of environmental advocacy group Voices of the Valley, and Gippsland’s renewable energy coordinator for Friends of the Earth, agrees that the electorate is facing energy issues.

Farmer says that there is “no security in the market at the moment for energy”, with frequent and recent power outages in Yallourn and other areas.

She says that coal is on the way out and a transition to greener energy sources is inevitable. While the jobs are “different” in the renewable energy sector, she says there are plenty of them.

“There are as many jobs, if not more jobs, in the renewable energy sector,” Farmer says. “When you speak to the renewable energy sector in Gippsland, they’re scared they won’t have the people to actually fill the jobs that are coming in.”

Farmer welcomes plans for the Renewable Energy Park and other similar projects, but lamented the lack of federal government funding, especially she says, after the government gave private company Maryvale Mill $48.5 million for their own energy from waste facility.

“So is $8.5 million [for the Renewable Energy Park] enough? Absolutely not.

“For the La Trobe Valley, if we don’t grasp the transition and transformation of energy, we will be left behind, we will have no jobs, coal will close and we will have nothing,” Farmer says.