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I rise again in this place today to speak about water, water infrastructure and the Werribee Irrigation District. Last October I raised this issue for the first time, calling on the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources to find a way to talk to state government about making a federal contribution to the upgrade and modernisation of the Werribee irrigation channels. Our channels are ancient. They are dilapidated. They are losing 40 per cent of the water on their way to our market gardeners, our growers, in Werribee South.
The industry in Werribee South is a billion-dollar-per-annum industry and employs 1,000 people a day. It is a critically important industry for us locally; it is important for the state and it is important for the nation. In fact, Fresh Select—one of our companies down there that also exports—was raised in the federal parliament by then Minister for Trade Andrew Robb, as well as being raised in a speech of his at the Press Club talking about the potential for export and the Werribee Irrigation District and the Werribee growers.
Since last speaking about this, I have had a meeting with Minister Joyce's adviser and was pleased to sit down and talk to him about the local issue. Since then, I have met, again, with Southern Rural Water who are continuing to work on their business plan to ensure that we are suitable for federal funding going forward. I call on the minister to come to Werribee South to meet with the growers. I have today organised to be with our state minister, Lisa Neville, when she meets with irrigators in our district in the next couple of weeks.
This is a critical issue for us, locally—absolutely critical. Our growers are paying exorbitant amounts for water when you consider that their allocations are not reaching them. Part of that issue is actually the infrastructure—the infrastructure that has not had an upgrade in decades and desperately needs it. If it was a case of, 'It's just the weather, and it's the drought,' then we would be looking at other issues, but we are losing water every day in those channels. Is it an absolute waste and an absolute disgrace.
I call on the minister to come down to Werribee South and meet with the irrigators. They want to tell you their story, Minister. They need you to understand that the federal government has a role to play here in supporting the modernisation of our channels. This is a critical issue for the growers in my electorate. It is a critical issue for all of us in Victoria who want to eat fresh vegetables.
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