Barrister praises Stanley’s Tenacity

Courtesy of the Ovens and Murray by Jamie Kronborg

A Barrister representing the Stanley community in its Victorian Supreme Court appeal against a Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal planning decision says that the outcome will determine the future of groundwater ”mining” in the state.

Daniel Robinson – who is acting for a local advocacy organisation known as Stanley Rural Community Incorporated – told a 135-head fundraising dinner in Beechworth on Saturday that the communities battle to preserve its high-value farmland from what is saw as threats posed by groundwater extraction had become the longest running-case in which he had been involved.

SRCI is appealing a VCAT decision late last year that allowed a company called Stanley Pastoral to develop groundwater extraction and storage facility on a small farm south of Stanley.

The company, controlled by the Carey family 0f one of Victoria’s biggest water wholesalers, based near Ballarat – had earlier secured a licence from Goulburn-Murray Water to take 19 million litres of groundwater every year from the Stanley aquifer.

It has recently started trucking the water from Stanley to Albury – via the main streets of Beechworth and Yackandandah – where it is being bottled by Asahi-Schweppes for sale to retailers.

Mr Robinson said that mounting a legal challenge to a planning decision required specialised knowledge and resources to make a case that would convince the decision–makers.

”Very sophisticated and experienced machinery comes into motion”, he said. “There are a lot of people who understand how to take a good case and get ahead. What you see less of – and what’s more impressive – is when you come across a group of people who are not plugged into that system. (For them) it’s not just an investment in any business (by people) who are going to make money down the track.

They’re just ordinary people who want to protect what they have from the impact of what someone else is trying to do. Every now and then you do see people like that step up and access this incredibly complex system and fight it on an equal footing with the people who are the regular players. And that’s happened here.”

Mr Robinson said he often saw objectors at VCAT and most of them had passion, but it is not nearly enough.

“It’s essential – but you also have to couple it with a lot of hard work and … smart, careful work that will actually make a good case” he said. “That usually involves finding experts – not just legal experts but scientific experts in a case like this, and then seeing through, even when it gets tough.” Mr Robinson said SRCI’s appeal had become “about as tough as it gets. As a case that goes on for more than two years, two leading VCAT decisions that are still here referred to (at least the first referred to) and other cases I’m involved in at VCAT and now at the Supreme Court is just quite exceptional,” he said.

”It’s very exceptional. It’s exceptional to see objectors put up a fantastic equal fight … it is rare and inspiring. I think you’re probably all aware that you’re not the first community in Victoria to face this exact issue. But you are the first to step up and fight it in a careful, professional way with the backing of that specialised knowledge, scientific experience, and to fight it on an equal footing. And by doing that you’re fighting it in a way that does win.”

Mr Robinson said the case would determine whether absentee landholders could “keep rolling through towns buying up water licences and cashing them out without any kind of scrutiny, without scientific scrutiny, and without scrutiny against the planning schemes that set out the aspirations for the area. Just to keep siphoning value out of a natural resource without creating value, and doing it at the expense of people who are using that resource to create value from your honest hard work – that’s why I was genuine in saying at the start that it is a privilege for me to be involved in this case.”

Mr Robinson said that the case offered Stanley “very real potential to win and to protect your way of life in this community – and not just this community, but every other community in Victoria that finds itself in the same position”.

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