Water ownership in a river system will be made available to Traditional Owners in East Gippsland for the first time in the state’s history.
In a step towards recognising Traditional Owners’ deep connection to water, the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation (GLaWAC) will receive two gigalitres of unallocated water in the Mitchell River.
Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, confirmed Southern Rural Water will make a further four gigalitres of unallocated water available on the open market – half in the coming months and the remainder next year.
“This is a momentous outcome for the Gunaikurnai that recognises the importance of gaining rights to water to restore customary practices, protect cultural values and uses, gain economic independence and heal Country,” GLaWAC chief executive officer, Roger Fenwick, said.
The announcement also steps out the process for the remaining four gigalitres of winterfill water to be released in two tranches of two gigalitres each, the first of which will open soon for expressions of interest from those who are eligible to hold a licence on the Mitchell River.
“The $150m horticulture sector in the Lindenow Valley and other existing Mitchell licence-holders will see this winterfill as an opportunity to improve their year-round water security. We are pleased to be able to make this winterfill water available to the market, supporting growth in the East Gippsland community,” Southern Rural Water managing director, Cameron FitzGerald, said.
The final two gigalitres will be offered to the market for eligible licence-holders later next year.
However, Bulmer Farms’ Bill Bulmer, of Lindenow, is frustrated by the announcement.
“We’vehadnoconsultationin this process,” Mr Bulmer said.
“It’s a real slap in the face for irrigators.
“I’ve been in the water game a long time.
“This goes back 10 years or so when there were 10 gigalitres put aside, then all of a sudden it was six gig.
“That six gig was set aside for irrigators for food production.
“I want to make it clear I have no problem with GLaWAC having two gig for whatever purpose they like, but why has it come out of that allocation?
“The water was set aside for ag, from an irrigator’s perspective it was for food production. But mining comes under agriculture. “You can make of that what you like.
“If you were a conspiracy theorist you’d think that fifth and sixth gig to be released in May was being held for the mine.”
Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said the announcement was not what irrigators were promised.
“We have known for some time that there was six gigalitres of winter flow available to be allocated and the understanding has always been across previous governments that when this was released, the irrigators would have first opportunity to secure as much of this right as they sought,” Mr Bull said.
“I have no issue over Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation receiving an allocation, my concern sits with the irrigators only having first option on just two gigalitres, rather than the six they have been anticipating.
“What has not been made clear by the Minister, but I have since had confirmed, is that in the two gigalitres that will be released to the market soon will be part of an auction process for irrigators only; however the remaining two gigalitres to be released next year will not be confined to irrigators only, but for the highest bidder in the wider marketplace.
“The intention all along has been the irrigators would have first access and then any surplus will go to the open market – this was a stance I supported - but the Minister seems to have abandoned this.
“What I would have liked to have seen was the full balance of the allocation outside what has been made available to GLaWAC to have been first offered to irrigators before any remaining allocation was to be offered to the open market.
Lindenow vegetable farmer, Bill Bulmer, of Bulmer Farms, is frustrated by the State Government’s announcement to put previously allocated Mitchell River winterfill for food production up for auction on the open market. K130-4703 (2019)