Cam­paign gains sup­port

More than 120,000 peo­ple sign pe­ti­tion to pres­sure in­ter­na­tional cor­po­ra­tion

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY CO­RAL COOK­SLEY

THE small Indigo com­mu­nity of Stan­ley has at­tracted world­wide at­ten­tion to a cam­paign to stop bev­er­age com­pany AsahiSch­weppes from bot­tling lo­cal ground­wa­ter.

More than 120,000 peo­ple in the past three weeks have signed an in­ter­na­tional on-line pe­ti­tion in an at­tempt to pres­sure the Ja­panese-owned cor­po­ra­tion into ditch­ing ar­range­ments through which it buys wa­ter pumped from the Up­per Ovens aquifer south of the vil­lage.

The cam­paign, at­tract­ing more than 1000 new sig­na­to­ries ev­ery day, has been man­aged by Su­mofUs, a not-for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which has a global com­mu­nity of mem­bers who want to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment from ex­ploita­tion by pow­er­ful busi­ness in­ter­ests.

Su­mofUs has pre­vi­ously sup­ported high pro­file com­mu­nity wa­ter bat­tles in the United States, Canada and New Zealand.

Se­nior cam­paigner Nick Haines said the pe­ti­tion urged Asahi-Sch­weppes to re­spect Stan­ley’s farm­ers and food pro­duc­ers and im­me­di­ately stop sourc­ing wa­ter from the area.

“With­out hav­ing con­ducted full hy­dro­log­i­cal sur­veys, no one knows ex­actly how much wa­ter lies be­neath the Stan­ley Plateau,” he said.

“If it dries up, it’ll be the fruit and nut farm­ers of Stan­ley who will suf­fer and not Asahi who will sim­ply pack up and send wa­ter trucks else­where.”

Ground­wa­ter whole­saler Stan­ley Pas­toral ob­tained a com­mer­cial li­cence from North­ern Vic­to­rian wa­ter reg­u­la­tor Goul­burn Mur­ray Wa­ter (GMW) in 2016, to pump ground­wa­ter from its 16-hectare Cue Springs prop­erty.

That move has been strongly op­posed by the lo­cal small farm­ing and or­chard com­mu­nity since 2013.

A two-year le­gal dis­pute fol­lowed GMW’s de­ci­sion, in which com­mu­nity ad­vo­cacy or­gan­i­sa­tion Stan­ley Ru­ral Com­mu­nity In­cor­po­rated joined Indigo Shire Coun­cil in de­fend­ing the coun­cil’s de­ci­sion to refuse Stan­ley Pas­toral’s plan­ning ap­pli­ca­tion to build a wa­ter stor­age and truck­ing in­fra­struc­ture at the site of the ground­wa­ter bore.

Stan­ley Pas­toral sought ju­ris­dic­tion from the Vic­to­rian Civil and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Tri­bunal (VCAT), which over­turned Indigo Coun­cil’s re­fusal to is­sue the plan­ning per­mit, and al­lowed de­vel­op­ment to pro­ceed.

SRCI then con­tested the VCAT rul­ing in the Supreme Court but was un­suc­cess­ful in ap­peal­ing the court’s de­ci­sion to up­hold the rul­ing.

The court or­dered SRCI to pay $90,000 to­wards Stan­ley Pas­toral’s le­gal costs.

SRCI chair­man Ed Tyrie said the court de­ci­sion had been ac­cepted but it was about so­cial jus­tice.

“It’s the moral is­sue of tak­ing a com­mu­nity’s wa­ter sup­ply,” he said.

With no main wa­ter sup­ply, Mr Tyrie said Stan­ley’s com­mu­nity de­pended on ground and sur­face wa­ter.

“Dams, creeks, rain­wa­ter tanks and bores are its life­line,” he said.

He said ev­ery tanker that left Stan­ley for Asahi-Sch­weppes’ South Al­bury bot­tling plant car­ried 38,000 litres of bore wa­ter that had to be fil­tered three or four times for hu­man con­sump­tion.

Mr Tyrie said that the vol­ume equated to 50,000 plas­tic 375ml wa­ter bot­tles.

With rain­fall down by 40 per cent across Eastern Aus­tralia, se­vere drought con­di­tions in many parts of the na­tion, and high sum­mer tem­per­a­tures fore­cast, he said wa­ter sources would be un­der pres­sure if no ad­e­quate rain fell on the plateau dur­ing spring and sum­mer.

“Farm­ers and or­chardists need a se­cure wa­ter source and ground­wa­ter is the last source of a vi­tal re­source needed for the fu­ture, as well,” he said.

Mr Tyrie said the Su­mofUs cam­paign had shown that thou­sands of peo­ple cared about wa­ter as a global con­cern and that a govern­ment en­quiry into ground­wa­ter man­age­ment was needed.

“Asahi is prof­it­ing from the wa­ter and has the power to do the right thing,” he said.

Indigo Shire mayor Cr Jenny O’Con­nor said wa­ter was the most pre­cious re­source and di­vert­ing it away from food pro­duc­tion, in a re­gion re­liant on agri­cul­ture, was “un­con­scionable”.

“Indigo Shire will con­tinue to chal­lenge this ir­re­spon­si­ble use of wa­ter,” she said.

Other com­mu­ni­ties af­fected by wa­ter min­ing in­clude nearby Nug Nug, Musk in Cen­tral Vic­to­ria, Dayles­ford, the Tweed Val­ley in NSW and Tam­borine Moun­tain in Queens­land.

Mr Tyrie said a govern­ment in­quiry should ex­am­ine changes to Vic­to­ria’s wa­ter leg­is­la­tion.

The use of plas­tic for bot­tled wa­ter was also a com­pet­ing so­cial is­sue.

Mr Tyrie said plas­tic bot­tles ended up in land­fill, lit­ter­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, as shown in the tele­vi­sion doc­u­men­tary ‘The War on Waste’.

“I’m not against plas­tic bot­tles for emer­gency use - they have a place - but why do we need to drink bot­tled wa­ter when we’re in a country that has ac­cess to clean drink­ing wa­ter?” he said.

Stan­ley Pas­toral di­rec­tor Tim Carey said in­de­pen­dent hy­dro­ge­o­log­i­cal stud­ies un­der­taken at the Stan­ley Cue Springs’ prop­erty con­cluded that op­er­a­tions had no ad­verse im­pact on wa­ter ac­cess for Stan­ley’s res­i­dents and farm­ers.

He said this had been ver­i­fied by GMW in­de­pen­dent au­di­tors, VCAT and the Supreme Court.

“The SRCI has pro­vided no ev­i­dence that Stan­ley’s un­der­ground wa­ter is ad­versely af­fected by the li­cenced wa­ter ex­trac­tion,” he said.

Mr Carey also said the wa­ter source has been re­spon­si­bly man­aged by the com­pany with com­pli­ance to li­cence con­di­tions.

“Long term sus­tain­abil­ity of the source and sur­round­ing wa­ter users is vi­tally im­por­tant to our busi­ness,” he said

Mr Carey ad­vo­cated that the Su­mofUs pe­ti­tion was based on mis­in­for­ma­tion where pe­ti­tion sig­na­to­ries would not have read oper­a­tional sus­tain­abil­ity re­ports.

Also a di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralian Bev­er­ages Coun­cil with the Aus­tralasian Bot­tled Wa­ter In­sti­tute (ABWI) un­der its wing, Mr Carey said the in­dus­try used 100 per cent re­cy­clable plas­tic bot­tles.

“Bot­tled wa­ter pro­vides choice and con­ve­nience for con­sumers,” he said.

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