Werribee South Irrigation Upgrades

I rise this evening to speak about water in South Western Victoria. Chances are that members of this House have eaten the quality produce from Werribee South in the electorate of Lalor—the broccoli, the lettuce, the cauliflower. Farmers in Werribee South need a reliable and sustainable water supply. The farmers in my community are paying the highest price for water in the state. As I said in October in this place, the aged infrastructure is currently losing around 35 to 40 per cent of the water sent down the irrigation channels. That is about 40 per cent of water that could go back into the system to boost allocations for farmers and provide much needed environmental flows for the lower Werribee River. 

In the electorate of Lalor, market gardeners have relied on a shandy of river water from river and recycled water from the nearby Western Treatment Plant to continue to grow the food that we put on our tables every night. The annual turnover by these farmers is estimated to be over $100 million a year, with the industry employing an estimated 1,000 people every day. These are all things that the Minister for Trade Andrew Robb knows, as he visited the local business Fresh Select in August to praise them for their operation and planned exports to China. And he referred to their great work in a Press Club speech on 12 August and in question time that week. 

I first raised this issue in this place in October, having met with key stakeholders who know how important water is for this community, for the state of Victoria and for Australia as a nation. One such stakeholder, Southern Rural Water, has a plan to pipe the leaking open channels that carry river and recycled water to the area. 

I recently attended a very positive meeting with the Victorian Department for Environment, Land, Water and Planning to discuss the issues and my concerns. They indicated an interest in communicating with the federal government about the Southern Rural Water proposal and the needs of the Werribee Irrigation District. 

I note that the federal Water Infrastructure Ministerial Working Group earmarked the Werribee Irrigation District as a potential project, for which more information is needed from the state government for categorisation. I would urge the Minister for Agriculture to utilise the channels developed by his ministerial water working group so the state government can provide information on the updated proposal for his consideration. 

Last week I met with more local farmers who are incensed and desperate for high-quality water at a competitive price so that their industry can continue to operate. Given Werribee South's location to nearby Avalon Airport and the export opportunities already taken by groups like Fresh Select, there is an opportunity for the federal government to help fund modernisation for the area. I urge this government to do so. Given limited rainfall on the horizon and the looming consequences of climate change, the need to save every drop of water is paramount and the need to ensure this industry is paramount. 

In October I sent a letter to the minister, which, according to his staff, was never received. I have again sent a letter requesting a meeting with the minister regarding the Werribee Irrigation District. The momentum from growers and other stakeholders is building. Minister Joyce, the ball is now in your court; I call on you to arrange that meeting. Werribee, indeed the South West, needs water security and a fair price, and the federal government is in a position to help us achieve this. I go to a precedent, where in recent history the Australian government contributed $10 million towards the cost of recycled water infrastructure for the Torquay growth corridor. This is recent history; the precedent is set. I urge this government and the minister to act now to ensure our farmers in the South West are competitive. They require water availability, sustainability and a competitive price. These farmers are now generational; they are supplying vegetables to this nation and would like to build their export industry. I urge the government to act.

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