“This water could be made available for irrigation developments along the Latrobe River, or potentially even connected into the Thomson-Macalister system to expand the MID or improve the reliability of entitlements.
“Additional irrigation could be achieved through better water-use efficiency and the encouragement of low water use but high value-added production such as greenhouses and other horticultural industries. The Andrews Labor Government should be investigating these options as part of its current review of water resources in southern Victoria.”
Mr O’Brien and Member for Gippsland East, Tim Bull, said to start with the Andrews Labor Government must commit its share of the final phase of the MID modernisation.
“The Nationals committed to this project at the election last year and we’ve had $32 million on the table from the Commonwealth since February and not a peep out of Labor on when they will fund their share,” Mr Bull said.
“This project alone will deliver 10,000 ML of water efficiency savings that can be put to good use in creating jobs in our region.”
Mr O’Brien said there was good land either side of the MID and around the Latrobe that could be developed for irrigation and Southern Rural Water had already undertaken preliminary plans for expansion.
“We need the Labor Government to further develop these plans because we need more jobs and alternative industries in the region now and into the future. It is a fact that irrigation delivers much greater economic return, including in jobs, per hectare of development than dryland agriculture.
“With a transition occurring in our traditional industries, now is the time to seize the opportunities to expand irrigation and create jobs. With the right policy settings, we can also develop new value-adding in processing that will create more local jobs.”
Mr O’Brien said a key risk however was the current plans to fill closed open cut coal mines, such as the Morwell mine at Hazelwood, with water.
“I appreciate the technical constraints that suggest a pit lake is the only viable option to maintain the integrity of the mine. However the government estimates it will take 750,000 to 1 million ML to fill the mine – where will that water come from and at what opportunity cost for our communities?
“Can the water from a pit lake be used for other purposes and how? What will the water quality be like? These and many other questions are yet to be answered and yet a pit lake is the only option currently being considered at Hazelwood.”
Mr O’Brien said the government needs to be transparent about the costs and opportunities.
“In Gippsland we could become an even greater foodbowl than we already are, but we need to seize opportunities like those available to us in the Latrobe right now.”