Second Reading – Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017

It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the Water and Catchment Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. It is really quite astounding that we are three years in with this government and the word ‘water’ has not been mentioned by those on the opposite side, given that water is such an important —

Mr Richardson — You weren’t here for the first year!

Ms BRITNELL — No, I heard and my colleagues have said quite clearly that it has taken you this long to get organised. That is no surprise, given the member for Mordialloc’s lack of understanding of the issue. He talked so much about nothing for 6 minutes and he could not even fill the whole 10 minutes. That is not to mention your colleague the member for Essendon. Clearly neither of you have been outside the tram tracks. I would welcome your visit. Come and see the farms, come and see what we contribute and see how important water is to our communities.

The ACTING SPEAKER (Ms Kilkenny) — Through the Chair, please.

Ms BRITNELL — It gives me great pleasure to rise and speak on this bill. I understand the importance of water. We do need water so that we have got good agricultural communities which contribute to both the environmental importance of our state and the food needs of not only Victoria but the world. I support the reasoned amendment and I acknowledge the importance of what is happening in the north and the importance of having an impact statement, particularly an impact statement on salinity, before we go ahead and pass a bill. They are incredibly important issues and we should not pass bills before we have knowledge about them.

I might just bring the attention back to South-West Coast, my electorate. We have an abundance of water. It has been hydrologically tested and found that our region has good, safe water underground for use in agriculture. Of the 100 per cent that we have soundly environmentally available and capped, we are using only 35 per cent. We have spoken as a region to the department and proposed that the department help us and enable us to get another 10 per cent, still soundly environmentally used. That would improve the productivity of the region enormously.

If we increased the current 35 per cent by another 10 per cent that would enable a $55 million investment from increased productivity back into the region. That is based on modelling of increasing grass production, which would then be turned into milk and which would then have a value of $55 million. We already employ people in the dairy industry. Not only the dairy industry but also the wool industry, the sheep meat industry, the beef industry and the cropping industry can benefit from an increased irrigation capacity. In the dairy industry alone we employ over 10 000 people in South-West Coast. The value currently of that milk on farm is $192 million, of which 80 per cent gets reinjected straight back into the community, which is a figure of $153 million.

We currently have the legislation in place to be able to have that 10 per cent extra. We just need the minister to urge the department to actually get on and find ways of doing this. Those ways are actually already identified by the great work that the people in the food and fibre group, which I was very involved with before coming into this place, have done the modelling on. If we just get people in the department doing the job that they should be doing, then that $55 million would equate to another 340 jobs. Every $1 million that is produced in the dairy industry in South-West Coast creates 6.17 jobs. If you put another $55 million in, that is another 340 jobs, so it is very significant.

That is just one of the things we need to do. We need to enable that extra 10 per cent. We could obviously do more and still do it very safely from an environmental perspective. We can also access the Dilwyn aquifer, which is about a kilometre underground. I have seen schemes in Canada and there are some across the world and even in Tasmania. For a small investment of around $2 million you can enable three to 20 irrigators along a small scheme. There is a very insignificant ongoing cost to the government but there is increased availability of water and therefore increased productivity.

We know that the world is going to face some challenges in producing enough food for a growing population, so I think we have a sense of responsibility to be able to export food the way we do to the world and to make sure we do it responsibly. The water exists and the studies are done and we can do it in a way that increases productivity very effectively.

There is also a third point I wanted to make about how we can do better in South-West Coast and we have the ability there already to do it. That is to allow for what is known as winter run take. Rather than allocating water in the summer to farmers, allowing them to build dams on their properties and allowing the winter run to go into the dams, it is far better environmentally for the river. In summer there is no take-off because they have already got the water stored, so it is far better for river health as well.

I think what we need to do is not just put a bill in that does very little but actually get our departments that have the capacity to do things doing them now. This is a case in point: I know the food and fibre group had a meeting with the minister just recently to put this case forward, so I urge the minister to take heed and think about how we can get this going already.

The bill also talks about the importance of the Aboriginal community having some input, and I think that is really good because in the South-West Coast electorate we have got the example of the Budj Bim project, which is a project in the area north of Portland and west of Warrnambool. What we see there is that for 6500 years the Aboriginal community were eeling and using a farming system very similar to what you see today in sheep farming or cattle farming whereby you fence and rotationally graze and have rest areas. This is what the Aboriginal community were doing back then, so clearly there was an affinity and understanding of intensive farming way back 6500 years ago. It is important to make sure we do the consultation with people who have investments, such as farmers who have been farming in the area for 150 years or 180 years and the Aboriginal community who — some of them — have been farming there for 6500 years.

I do see that we have some important elements to this bill, but I do think it is rather amusing that we have the other side, as mentioned already, standing up and talking for just a few minutes on a subject they have very little knowledge about. The lead speaker could not even fill the 10 minutes allocated to talk about the importance of such an important resource that we must do well and continue to do well to manage and one we know will be something we must allocate responsibly. I think we have got an opportunity to do that very, very well in the south-west, as we have been doing for a very long time and want to continue to do as an organised group of producers and community members working with the shires and councils, the farming community, research organisations such as WestVic Dairy and the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria — all working in a way that ensures we get the best out of the region, improve our productivity and profitability, create jobs and take part in the challenge the world has in front of it.

I have probably said this in this place before: we as an organised community worldwide in the next 50 years have to produce exactly the same amount of food as we have produced since we started organised farming some 500 years ago. Before that we were just subsistence farmers. Given that we only have about 7 per cent of the world’s surface to do that on and we have an increasing population — we are predicted to get to 10 billion people in the next few years — we have a real challenge on our hands. I think we have a social obligation, and people like the community of South-West Coast have the ability to produce more responsibly and reliably to do exactly that. Enabling communities, unlocking the latent capacity, I think is what we really need to see our policies providing opportunity for.

I would rather see a lot more walking the walk. We know food is important. We talk about white papers for agriculture, but so far talking the talk is about as far as I can see it going. Here is an opportunity. The food and fibre community in South-West Coast have answers. The opportunity is there. This bill does not even need to pass for that to take place. I urge the minister to work closely with the food and fibre community of South-West Coast and to get the department to get on with servicing their customers, the consumer, enabling rather than standing in the way and making life challenging. I will leave it at that.