In what they have described as a “David and Goliath battle”, members of the Stanley community walked into the Melbourne head office of bottled water giant Asahi on Friday to make their move in the ongoing fight.
The company uses thousands of litres of groundwater from Stanley every week in its bottled water.
Stanley’s story has spread nationwide in recent months thanks to an online petition calling for Asahi to stop using the town’s only water source.
Copies of the 3000-page petition with more than 125,000 signatures, contained in five boxes, were hand-delivered to the Japanese-owned company’s Australian headquarters.
Stanley Rural Community chair Ed Tyrie, Indigo Council mayor and Benambra state candidate Jenny O'Connor, Stanley orchardists David and Helen McIntyre and SumOfUs senior campaigner Nick Haines were among those to make the trip.
But they did not get the response they were hoping for from the company.
Cr O’Connor said she was left shocked when chief commercial officer Stuart Roberts said he saw the extraction of water the same as selling food grown in Stanley.
“He said getting that water and bottling it has the same value as food, as growing nuts and food and dairy,” she said. “I wasn’t happy with that … I didn’t know what to say, I just looked at him and thought ‘are you kidding?’.”
Mr Tyrie said the whole community was totally reliant on the groundwater.
“We are in the middle of one of the driest years in the last decade and yet still the water trucks come, week in and week out,” he said.
“Asahi can always source water from the next bore in a neighbouring shire, but if our water dries up so, too, does our little community’s livelihood and our 150-year-old horticultural heritage.”
Stanley residents also drove to Parliament House to deliver more than 1200 letters to Premier Daniel Andrews calling for changes to the Water and Planning acts, which would give communities greater say in how groundwater is used.
As it stands, the council has no power to stop property owners extracting and selling the water.
Barrister Daniel Robinson’s letter on behalf of the Stanley residents stated public notice and appeal rules in the Water Act were “grossly inadequate, and leaves the public in the dark and shut out from the process”.
“Make the Water Act prioritise the use of water as a productive resource, not just a commodity to be mined and sold off,” he said.
“People who need water for productive use should not have to compete directly for access.”
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