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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4173

Dr STONE (9:49 PM) —I present a petition that has been found to be in order by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Petitions. Fifty families live on the east side of the eastern main channel in Cosgrove in northern Victoria. They rely on the Shepparton Stock and Domestic Community Water Supply Scheme. For the first time in 112 years they have no water for critical human needs or for their livestock. For generations, these 90 farms with 50 families have drawn their water from the weir pool of the Gowangardie Weir on the Broken River at Cosgrove South. The water moves by gravity to supply some 300 dams in an area of approximately 10,000 hectares.

The water supply is used to maintain the homes and the households of families, obviously, but also to water the livestock of these food- and fodder-producing properties—and they are magnificent properties which, when it rains, are superb producers. The extreme drought of the last seven years has severely limited the available water supply, and finally this year that supply has totally failed. The community is now forced to cart in, in portable tanks, water from outside the district, water that they have been allowed to access from a major channel nearby. The situation will only deteriorate in the future with the decommissioning of Lake Mokoan. Releases from Mokoan have historically supplemented their open channel system.

A study by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries in 2004 into the piping of this system found that this scheme could save some 630 megalitres, but at $5 million it was deemed uneconomical. These 630 megalitres could have been returned to the Broken River, a very stressed environmental habitat. The failure of the water supply has driven the landholders to approach the Victorian government to fund the piping of the water from the nearby eastern main channel in return for the saving of 630 megalitres. Just 200 megalitres would be sufficient if piped to serve their needs. To date they have had no luck in gaining funding from the state government. They are now turning to the federal government’s Restoring the Balance in the Murray-Darling Basin program, hoping to have more success there. This petition describes their need for that funding for essential critical human need and livestock water.

The irony of this crisis is that, if the community had been on the west side of the eastern main channel, it would have had its infrastructure upgraded as part of the food bowl modernisation project. It literally looks across a channel bank to see the alternative scheme. This is not a water buyback scheme. This community wants to continue to be productive agriculturalists, to produce food and fibre for the rest of the country. If Australia were a Third World country, no-one would be surprised about 50 families going without drinking water and water for their livestock in this the 21st century. But we are not talking about Pakistan or the Sudan. This is Australia and this is 2009, and this community, Cosgrove South, is only 2½ hours from Melbourne. It would cost only $5 million to drought-proof this area with a pipeline to supply water to 10,000 hectares of excellent farmland and thousands of head of sheep and cattle.

This petition was signed by virtually all of the farm families. They have combined in a cooperative effort to build for themselves the standpipe that has allowed them to access some portable water from a Goulburn-Murray water channel. That is a rather unique and outstanding achievement. They were quoted some $50,000 to put in the standpipe, but they were able to achieve this with expenditure of just $500 through the cooperative work of the community in borrowing, begging, lending and volunteering. This is a superb community that is doing it extraordinarily tough. They are carrying water daily to meet their human needs. They must have this funding. This petition needs and demands proper attention from this government. I commend it to the House.

The petition read as follows—

To The Honourable The Speaker and Members of The House of Representatives

We the undersigned land holders and members of the Shepparton Stock and Domestic Community Water Supply Scheme, wish to draw to the attention of the Speaker and Members of The House of Representatives the fact that our open stock and domestic water channels are urgently in need of replacement for critical community, environmental and commercial reasons. The petitioners therefore request funding for a piped Stock and Domestic scheme for Cosgrove/Cosgrove South and Pine Lodge districts.

From 105 citizens

Petition received.