Last update:

Hazelwood Open-Cut Coal Mine Fire, Australia

The worst disaster in the history of Latrobe Valley led to damage worth more than A$100mn. A fire burnt for 45 days, releasing overwhelming smoke and ash seriously affecting the immediate and long-term health, everyday activities, homes, etc


French owned global energy company Engie (formerly GDF Suez Australian Energy) is the majority owner and manager of the Hazelwood open-cut brown coalmine (south Morwell), which supplies its Hazelwood Power plant.

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Hazelwood Open-Cut Coal Mine Fire, Australia
State or province:Victoria
Location of conflict:Morwell
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Thermal power plants
Specific commodities:Electricity
Project Details and Actors
Project details

1. Company activities (6)

See more
Project area:1,000+
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectA$2.35bn (1996)
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:14,000+
Start of the conflict:09/02/2014
Company names or state enterprises:GDF SUEZ Australian Energy from Australia - 72 per cent owner Hazelwood power plant
Mitsui & Co Ltd from Japan - 28 per cent owner Hazelwood power plant
GDF Suez (GDF Suez) from France
Engie (ENGIE) from France
Relevant government actors:Country Fire Brigade Department of Health
Ambulance Victoria
Victoria Police
Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB)
Emergency Management Victoria
Environmental Protection Authority
Department of Environment and Primary Industries State Emergency Service
Australian Capital Territory Fire and Rescue
New South Wales Fire and Rescue
Tasmanian Fire Services
Queensland Fire Service
Air Services Australia
Mining Regulator
Victorian WorkCover Authority
La Trobe City Council
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Voices of the Valley-
Friends of the Earth (Australia)—
Asbestos Council of Victoria & Gippsland Asbestos Related Diseases Support Inc. (GARDS)—
Community Over Mining—
Doctors for the Environment Australia—
Environment Victoria—
Environmental Justice Australia—
Earthworker Cooperative -
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Trade unions
Local scientists/professionals
Locals live in one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged municipalities in the state of Victoria
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Groundwater pollution or depletion
Other Environmental impactsImpacts from fire in the open-cut brown coal mine on local homes, businesses, and other services and activities as well as impacts on company property and workers.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths
Other Health impactsEspecially long-term health impacts (unexpected, synergistic PM toxicities etc.) were so uncertain that a 20 year study of the affected community has been developed to inform ways future such disasters can be better managed with respect to public health.
The extensive existence of fatal asbestos as a building material made cleaning homes highly dangerous and expensive.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Specific impacts on women
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsSuch disasters affect commercial and residential property prices, tourist sectors etc.
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
The inquiry made 18 regulations associated with improving fire prevention and management, community safety and public health.
Proposal and development of alternatives:EJOs recommend phasing out the use of electricity from brown coal fields and turning to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind.
EJOs deplore the carbon emissions that result from brown coal field use and accidents, such as fires.
EJOs support communities coping with asbestos materials in their homes and workplaces, which become particularly dangerous and costly to manage during and after fires.
EJOs support better communication from public bodies to communities to improve decisions to stay or leave or to manage situations caused by such disasters.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:There are outstanding and ongoing concerns about the lack of appropriate support from government agencies in the face of direct and immediate impacts, as well as long-term and unknown affects, of such a disaster. The 11 premature deaths and anecdotal evidence in the media about the health impacts on families, especially the disadvantaged with no money to relocate or seek appropriate support and treatment, mean that a class action is still possible. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Authority is to upgrade its monitoring equipment and capacity and the Health Department its emergency response capabilities. Other government agencies and the mine operator have also been obliged to improve protocol and readiness for future fire threats, containment and community safety management.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

As listed in the Bibliography to the HMFI (2014: 429), relevant legislation included:

Constitution Act 1975 (Vic)

Country Fire Authority Act 1958 (Vic)

Crimes Legislation Amendment Act 2010 (Vic)

Electricity Safety Act 1998 (Vic)

Electricity Safety (Bushfire Mitigation) Act 2013 (Vic)

Emergency Management Act 1986 (Vic)

Emergency Management Act 2013 (Vic)

Energy and Resources Legislation Amendment Act 2009 (Vic)

Energy and Resources Legislation Amendment Act 2010 (Vic)

Environment Effects Act 1978 (Vic)

Environment Protection Act 1970 (Vic)

Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1958 (Vic)

Fire Services Commissioner Act 2010 (Vic)

Mineral Resources Development (Mining) Amendment Regulations 2010 (Vic)

Mineral Resources Development Regulations 2002 (Vic) (repealed)

Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Act 1990 (Vic)

Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) Amendment Act 2014 (Vic)

Mineral Resources (Sustainable Development) (Mineral Industries) Regulations 2013 (Vic)

Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (Vic)

Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2007 (Vic)

Planning and Environment Act 1987 (Vic)

Protected Disclosure Act 2012 (Vic)

Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008 (Vic)

Water Act 1989 (Vic)
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry (2014) Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report. Victorian Government Printer, Melbourne. [ISBN 978-0-9925618-0-2]
[click to view]

[2] ABC (2014) 'Victorian coroner will not investigate potential link between Latrobe Valley deaths, Hazelwood mine fire', 14 November.
[click to view]

[3] GARDS (2014) Hazelwood mine fire disaster. Asbestos News 12(2) August: 1–2.
[click to view]

[4] Courtice, Ben (2013) Australia's electricity market: making the polluters profitable. Chain Reaction #117.
[click to view]

[5] WWF Australia (2005) Hazelwood tops international list of dirty power stations. 12 July.
[click to view]

[6] GDF Suez Group: ‘About Us’, ‘GDF Suez Group’ and ‘Mining Coal’.
[click to view]

[7] Environmental Justice Australia site with media briefs, submission and blog post (Nicola Rivers)
[click to view]

[8] Whitson, Rhiana (2015) Hazelwood coal mine fire inquiry recommendations prompt tough new regulations. ABC News, 23 January.
[click to view]

Alcorn, Gay (2014) Morwell after the mine fire: fear, anger and an independent streak. The Guardian

(18 August).
[click to view]

Australian Bureau of Statistics, (2017), “Latrobe Valley (SA3)”, [online], Australian Bureau of Statistics website [accessed 27/2/17]
[click to view]

Doig, T., (2015), The Coal Face, Penguin, MelbourneHazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry, (2015), Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry Report 2015/2016. Volume II – Investigations into 2009-20014 Deaths, Victorian Government Printer

Climate Action Moreland, (2015), Replace Hazelwood Primer
[click to view]

Sally Weller (2012) The Regional Dimensions of the ‘Transition to a Lowcarbon Economy’: The Case of Australia's Latrobe Valley, Regional Studies, 46:9, 1261-1272, DOI: 10.1080/00343404.2011.585149

Hazelwood Mine Fire Inquiry
[click to view]

Engie, (2016), “Hazelwood to close in March 2017”, [online], GDF Suez website, [accessed 27/2/17]
[click to view]

Other documents

Source: ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission) Graphics The fire at the Hazelwood Fire Station (2014), which took 45 days to put out, smouldering.
[click to view]

Other comments:Campaigning continues over the mystery deaths, potential ill-health over decades to come including related to extra asbestos exposures caused by consequences of the fire, importance of the company and state emergency services preventing and managing such fires better in the future
Meta information
Contributor:Anitra Nelson, RMIT University Centre for Urban Research: [email protected]
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1716
Legal notice / Aviso legal
We use cookies for statistical purposes and to improve our services. By clicking "Accept cookies" you consent to place cookies when visiting the website. For more information, and to find out how to change the configuration of cookies, please read our cookie policy. Utilizamos cookies para realizar el análisis de la navegación de los usuarios y mejorar nuestros servicios. Al pulsar "Accept cookies" consiente dichas cookies. Puede obtener más información, o bien conocer cómo cambiar la configuración, pulsando en más información.