Second Reading debate: Water Catchment Amendment Bill 2021:

When I first saw this bill being introduced, I thought – great this is going to finally take a look at the issues that have been happening around access to water in the south-west region for the past decade.

But once again it relates mostly to the north of the state and again the issues that groups in my electorate have been trying to get attention for have again been forgotten.

The Bill amends

  • the Water Act 1989 to provide the recording of certain additional information, the regulation of places, rates and times of taking water, Ministerial powers to deal with taking unauthorised amounts of water from an approved place, renaming City West Water Corporation and related and minor matters;
  • the Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994 to provide for the abolition of the Victorian Catchment Management Council, a change of catchment manager for the Port Phillip and Westernport Region and other amendments as required;
  • make consequential and related amendments to other acts.

These are all obviously important changes and I absolutely recognise the challenges of access to water in the North of the state and the need for reform in that area and there are some state-wide implications.

I welcome the introduction of the Victorian Water Register and that information being made public. This is something that the agriculture sector in the south-west has been calling for some time in an effort to increase transparency and help encourage trading of water entitlements.

But in my opinion the bill can go further and I would encourage the Government to take on board feedback from my region where there are changes that could be made to water policy to unlock massive amounts of economic growth

I’ve been across these issues since I was a member for the Great South Coast Group working with Basil Ryan, a man who knows all there is to know about access to water for agricultural purposes. Basil knowledge and passion for fair, responsible and equitable access to water fast became a priority for the Great South Coast Group and for other agricultural advocacy groups in the region.

But so far, there has been no acknowledgement that water access and trading in the region needs some significant reform.

License trading is not common practice in my region and neither is utilisation of the underground resources we have. Historically that may have worked and we are lucky we have steady rainfall, but if we want to go to the next level and remain competitive and sustainable then this issue must rectified.

But if we want to take our already fantastic agriculture sector to the next level, we need to encourage better uptake of resources.

In our region we have massive untapped underground resources which could be far better used in a responsible manner to help boost economic activity – but because water management and policy reform in the Great South Coast region hasn’t been given the attention of other regions in the state that potential economic activity remains locked up and allocations are often unused.

For example one aquifer – known as The Limestone – is fully allocated but only about 30-50 per cent of the entitlement is used – meaning there is a significant opportunity for trade. There is 120GL of groundwater licensed in the region but only 50GL of that licensed allocation is used.

The Great South Coast is the state’s highest agricultural value region and generates $2.3 billion annually and when combine – agriculture, fishing and forestry sectors combined provide 21 per cent of local people with employment.

The groundwater resources in the region have huge potential to help shift the region toward high value integrated agricultural enterprises and industries.

Responsibility for management of groundwater in Victoria is shared across a range of agencies and the process for application process for take and use licenses is multi-faceted. As a result, the process of applicants to gain that license is complex.

So often these huge resources which can be accessed in an environmentally sound way to unlock billions of dollars in economic growth sit there unused because the process is too complicate and too costly.

But this is just one area that needs attention.

The Great South Coast group has also identified an issue when it comes to surface water in the region and in particular the ability to trade upstream.

One of the biggest difficulties many license holders face is getting approval to sell water upstream and it’s not readily supported by agencies. License holders on the Merri River for example which flows through Warrnambool are not able to trade their license upstream – this means as land uses changes thanks to urban expansion along the coast, the entitlements remain under-utilised.

There needs to be some significant changes to the Act to allow for better water utilisation in the South West region.

Victoria’s one size fits all approach to take and use licenses is disadvantaging the south west region and leaving significant economic activity and job growth untapped.

So I would call on the Andrews Government to once again sit down with people like Basil Ryan and other members of the Great south Coast Group and look at the issues we are facing in the south west – Yes the Murray is important – but the economic potential that is sitting untapped in the south-west is just as important.

It’s time to do away with the one size fits all model and to look at region specific rules to help those regions make the most of their assets in an environmentally responsible way while still helping boost and bolster economic activity.

Of course, I’m not calling for an unregulated market where water is drawn from the ground with no regard for the environment – What I am calling for is the same attention that has been given to the north to be given to the south-west, to help us access this natural resource which is largely untapped in an environmentally responsible way.

Changes in this space could have huge economic benefits for the entire state and will help us meet the global challenge of ensuring there is enough food produced to meet the growing demand for the world.

My region stands ready to play a significant role in meeting the ever-increasing global demand for food and fibre. As we had towards a population of 9 billion people, and with only 7% of the world’s crust able to be cultivated, which decreases every year as population grows, it’s important we optimise these opportunities to ensure we are playing a part in the significant challenge the globe is facing.

But we need support from government to make changes to help us unlock the potential, so I again call on the Minister to sit down with The Great South Coast Group and listen to what they are saying and to then act to make these important changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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