A helping hand

The Hamilton Spectator – April 05, 2016

FARMERS from the Western District have come together to donate straw to bushfire and drought- affected farming families so they can get back on their feet.

Instead of burning off excess straw as they prepare paddocks for the upcoming season, farmers around Harrow and Telangatuk East have donated it to the ‘Need for Feed’ and other charities.

Need for Feed links up straw and hay donors with farmers who have lost their pasture to drought or bushfire.

There is no shortage of farmers who need help, with record droughts hitting the Wimmera and areas of Queensland, and bushfires at Scotsburn and Mt Bolton in the Ballarat area.

The Scotsburn fire destroyed 4000 hectares and 12 houses in December last year while the Mt Bolton fire claimed 1300 hectares, three homes and seven sheds in February.

Need for Feed coordinator Graham Cockerell told The Spectator that the largest non- corporate donations the group had ever received had come from Warren and Jasmine Blake’s farm in Telangatuk East.

The Blakes have already seen 210 bales of straw picked up from their 3200-acre cropping and sheep farm, north of Balmoral, and The Spectator spoke to them the day before the last 50 bales were taken away.

Mr Blake said he first heard of Need for Feed, which was established in 2006, through a random post on a social media website and almost dismissed it because of the group’s lack of online members.

“It was advertised on Facebook, believe it or not, through one of Graham’s friends, and I just responded basically asking if it was real or not,” Mr Blake said.

“It snowballed, and I said there was 110 hectares of standing straw if you want it.

“I’m just going to burn it and I thought it would be better to get rid of it rather than burn it and see it go up in smoke.”

Mr Blake said the straw would help feed the livestock of farmers who had seen their grazing paddocks destroyed.

“It saves money and helps feed their stock, that’s the main thing.

“When you get burnt out you lose everything. Stock survive, but feed doesn’t.”

The last of the Blakes’ straw was hauled away on Saturday at about midday.

A convoy of about six semi-trailer trucks and two escort utes is needed to pick up each load of donated straw.

The prior convoys have attracted a lot of attention in Harrow and Telangatuk East, serving as another form of advertising for the charity.

“People see the trucks and they ask what’s going on,” Mrs Blake said.

“You tell them why they are there and they say ‘ring us, we’ll help you load. It’s too late this year (for us to donate ourselves) but next year’.”

For the Blakes, the main cost is through the labour to cut and bale the straw.

Mr Blake says he donated to “pay it forward”.

“We’ve been there before, we’ve been burnt out and people helped us. What comes around goes around.”

Mrs Blake said Facebook also helped in that they could see pictures of when the straw arrived.

“They can see where it’s come from, especially through that Facebook page,” Mrs Blake said.

“It’s the best thing about it: you get to see the faces.”

Mr Blake said a local straw cutting contractor had also volunteered his services to help get the straw prepared.

“I’ve got a bailing contractor to do it for nothing; it’s coming out of his pocket to bale it,” he said.

“It’s coming out of my pocket to cut it; it’s coming out of (Need for Feed’s) pocket to cart it.

“It’s just Australia.”

Need for Feed on Facebook

The Hamilton Spectator, April 5, 2016. Page 1. 'A helping hand'.
The Hamilton Spectator, April 5, 2016. Page 1. ‘A helping hand’.

Roads a priority

The Hamilton Spectator – October 31, 2015

SOUTH-WEST COAST state by-election candidates have all agreed that
local roads are in a terrible state, especially around the Macarthur and
Condah areas that have seen heavy freight use in recent years.
Most of the 10 candidates that spoke to The Spectator about local transport issues this week have advocated for a new system of funding allocation for road works, with many calling for an end to temporary ‘patch ups’.
South-West Coast goes to the polls today, but 42 per cent of voters have already cast their ballot by pre-poll or postal vote.

Liberal candidate Roma Britnell and Nationals candidate Michael Neoh both called for the return of the $160 million ‘Country Roads and Bridges’ program, which provided funds to local governments.

“The community are saying that roads are bad and I agree 100 per cent,” Ms Britnell said.

“But over the last 16 years the Liberals have been in government for four, with Labor in for 12.”

Ms Britnell said the previous Coalition Government had “committed $2.6
million to Myamyn-Macarthur Rd, which Labor pulled.”

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Roads Minister said previously that “two
locations along Myamyn-Macarthur Rd, totalling 1.7km of road, will be
resurfaced in 2015/16.”

Mr Neoh said the Country Roads and Bridges Program should return, but
with $80 million spent over 12 months instead of two years.

“I have asked Jim Cooper from Port of Portland what his priority is and he
said it was the roads outside Portland,” Mr Neoh said.

“Talking to people from those areas, I have also heard the need for emergency repairs.

“I’m calling for half of (Country Roads and Bridges) to be pushed
forward into the first 12 months. There needs to be emergency repairs before we even get to upgrades.”

Independent candidate, Roy Reekie, who has run for Labor in the past, said one of the three key points in his transport plan was “proper investment and repair of roads, not just patch ups”.

Another of his key points was to “get more freight off roads and onto rail”.

“Now we are starting to have B-triples up to 75 tonnes. The roads not designed for this and it’s tearing them apart,” he said.

Greens candidate Thomas Campbell called for a survey of local road quality, combined with consultations with community members and industries, to help direct roads funding.

“Realistically, you have got to find a balance between making our roads safe for cars and trucks, and getting more freight onto rail,” he said.

“We can’t keep building roads endlessly if we can’t maintain all of the ones we have,” Mr Campbell said.

Independent candidate Pete Smith said he had proven and award-winning
experience in securing roads funding, which was needed as local roads were “appalling”.

“I have driven on them myself. They are not just appalling, they are downright dangerous,” he said.

“The situation is exactly the same in many other electorates, but the
marginal areas will get money before we do. The Coalition assumes they
have got it in the bag and Labor is not even trying.”

“Stop treating by-elections like a football game by barracking for your
old team; put your family’s welfare first.”

Mr Smith said that when he was a director of RAC South Australia, he worked on what he called “the largest roads funding campaign in Australia’s history”.

He received a national award for helping boost Victoria’s grant road
share from $2.6m in 1991/92 to $103m in 1994/95.

“I know how to get roads funding. People say ‘I’m going to get more
roads funding’, but I’ve actually done it,” he said.

Independent candidate Rodney Van De Hoef said the speed limit along
the main road at Condah should be reduced from 100 to 80 kilometres per hour as “it’s dangerous for community and those crossing the road”.

“The government will put up 80km/h for a bump in the road, why not this
intersection of major roads?”

Mr Van De Hoef also proposed to get more freight on rail by with an “intermodal/bulk freight hub at Heywood” that could also store shipping containers for the Port of Portland.

Independent candidate Swampy Marsh called for a protest campaign
aimed at the Victorian Premier and Parliament House.

“I’d hold (Premier) Daniel Andrews down by the throat until he promises
to listen,” Mr Marsh said. “You can have all the policies in the world but it won’t matter if people don’t listen.”

Mr Marsh said South-West Coast was in danger of falling behind in
funding because “the government won’t even run a candidate; they haven’t backed Roy Reekie, their losing candidate for the last four elections”.

“If it stays a Liberal seat, they won’t care. It’s got to be independent. You
have got to make them scared,” he said.

“You and I both know that the state of the roads is appalling, but we have
had 26 years of Liberal members, including 10 years in government, and they have done nothing.

“They even had the Roads Minister’s seat in Polwarth, and the Premier’s
seat right next to him, and it didn’t change.”

Mr Marsh said the region “should get a dump truck full of bitumen and
take it to Parliament House” to get media attention because “Labor is too
city-centric, and the Liberals won’t get off their arses”.

Jim Doukas, of the Australian Country Party, said in the local region
“it’s got to the stage where both rods and rail are completely buggered”.

“The State (Government) and Feds, they only fund the big projects like
highways but they should fund everything,” he said.

“The roads in places like Condah, Macarthur and towards Hotspur,
they’ve got to be fixed.

“It’s gotten to the stage where you can’t say we’ll fix some of them because they all need fixing.”

Animal Justice Party candidate Jennifer Gamble said the Princes
Hwy should be duplicated and major works should occur on the Hamilton
Hwy because it was “dangerous” and “the road shoulders are a hazard”.

“I’ve just been to Hamilton and it was a bumpy drive,” she said
She also said the Macarthur area had “too many rough surface signs put
up” and needed road works instead.

Independent Michael McCluskey, said “nearly every single road in the
south west is in a state of disrepair”.

He proposed two things, one of which was “we have to prioritise
funding to get a system for upgrading roads” and the other was “get freight off trucks as part of the solution” as “one 18-wheeler is equivalent to 5000 cars”.

The Australian Christians party has not responded to a request for
comment from its candidate Lillian Len.

Majority on board

The Hamilton Spectator – October 29, 2015

A MAJORITY of candidates for the South-West Coast state by-election
have voiced their support for rail projects, including freight and passenger improvements, but the Coalition frontrunners have placed a greater focus on roads.

Most candidates said they would push for the State Government to honour its commitment to have the $416 million Murray Basin Rail Project completed by 2018, including restoration of the line between Ararat and Maryborough.

Independent candidate Roy Reekie, who has previously run for the Labor
Party, said he would not be a part of the government if elected “so I can’t
speak for them”.

“What I will do is lobby to ensure that project is delivered,” he said.

Mr Reekie said a Federal Government contribution would be “reasonable, as it is a national infrastructure project”.

Liberal candidate Roma Britnell said she would look at the “bigger picture” and fight for western Victoria to get a bigger share of money from the “sale” of the Port of Melbourne.

“The Government is hoping to raise $5 to $7 billion, but country Victoria
is only getting three per cent of that,” she said.

“A lot of the products of Western Victoria have been, and will be, going to the Port of Melbourne, so we need more of a share for this region.”

Nationals candidate Michael Neoh said he was “absolutely” in favour of the Murray Basin project but he was concerned that the State Government’s announcement was “not new money”.

“I think there are games being played,” he said.

“If the Federal Government won’t support it, State Government needs to fund it whole.”

Greens candidate Thomas Campbell also said he “absolutely” supported it.
“The more we do for rail freight, the more it opens up the opportunities
for passenger rail, which is good for business and tourism as well as the
community,” he said.

“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is a link to north-west Victoria.” – Jim Doukas

Jim Doukas, of the Australian Country Party, wanted to see rail networks
improved to link areas both north and south of Hamilton.

“Rail can do a great deal for Portland and Hamilton as well, as Hamilton is
a link to north-west Victoria,” he said.
“Also for tourism: they are getting cruise ships in Portland and some of
them carry up to 3000 plus people.

“If you can get them up to the Grampians, there’s nothing like that in
the world.”

Jennifer Gamble, of the Animal Justice Party, supported the project as
long as roads were the first priority.

Rodney Van De Hoef, independent, said “too often we want to rush things” and called for the government to “do the project but over several years; if we rush can turn out like East West Link and get canned.”

Michael McCluskey, independent, said he would support the project “on
principle, because I support major rail projects.”
“The single most important thing is to improve our rail system,” he said.

“We need to get more freight onto rail. There is a direct link between the
decline of rail freight and damage to our roads.”

Independent Pete Smith was the only candidate to declare opposition to spending money on rail projects for agricultural freight, comparing it to
spending $100,000 on a photography darkroom a few years before digital
cameras came in.

Mr Smith declared he had “a vested interest in freight issues” because
of his involvement in AgChoices but called for “new thinking” from

“Any organisation that is investing millions of dollars in saleyards should
be sued by their shareholders or ratepayers,” he said.

“Moving grain by rail is approaching a horizon. What we need is a sort of
grain tube.

“Agriculture by rail freight: is it the future? My answer is that it’s not.”

Swampy Marsh, independent, said the 2018 deadline could not possibly
be met.

“They haven’t given themselves
enough time. There’s so much work to do.

“If they started right now, they’d be pushing it to get done by 2025.
“All they are doing is saying ‘be nice to us and vote for us again before 2018’. Call me an old cynic, but they’re just weasel words.”

Deaths Report: WDHS says findings ‘not an accurate reflection’

The Hamilton Spectator – October 22, 2015

HAMILTON Base Hospital has achieved one of Victoria’s “poorest results” for its death rate of babies born prematurely but the finding “does not accurately reflect performance over recent years”, according to Western District Health Service.

A Victorian Department of Health analysis of perinatal deaths between 2008 and 2012 found that babies born between 22 and 32 weeks gestation at WDHS were 80 per cent more likely to die than the state average.

The report stated that “in interpreting these ratios, conclusions cannot be drawn about avoidability of any of these deaths”.

The report was published in August but The Age newspaper highlighted some of its data this week in an attempt to link other hospitals with a major investigation into baby deaths in Bacchus Marsh.

A review into 10 baby deaths over two years at Djerriwarrh Health Service,
Bacchus Marsh found that seven of the deaths may have been preventable.

Since the review was released earlier this month a number of women, families and former staff have come forward with allegations of clinical incompetence and bullying at Djerriwarrh.

The Age described WDHS as one of a number of Victorian hospitals “on par with or worse than Bacchus Marsh.”

A statement from the offi ce of Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey said all Victorian perinatal deaths over the past seven years had been reviewed “and no other health service has been identified as being of concern”.

“Sadly, no pregnancy or birth is completely risk free, and complications
sometimes arise unexpectedly during labour or after delivery,” the minister’s statement said.

“However, latest figures show that Victoria’s perinatal mortality rate is
one of the lowest in Australia.

“The Government has put in place a range of new measures across the
state to ensure the safety of maternity

Though the perinatal report concerned the health outcomes for all babies,
WDHS only had a data entry for babies born at between 22 and 32 weeks gestation.

Babies born at this stage of a pregnancy are defined as “very” or “extremely” preterm and babies born at 22 weeks are unlikely to survive.

The Spectator understands that less than five babies born after 32 weeks gestation have died within 28 days  of birth at WDHS between 2008 and 2012.

That low number of deaths is the reason why WDHS did not receive an
analysis for deaths during treatment of routine pregnancies.

A statement from WDHS said it provided “a quality learning environment and has established processes in place to monitor the outcome of all births, including all perinatal deaths”.

“A medical specialist reviewed the perinatal deaths that occurred at WDHS between 2006 and 2011 and made a number of recommendations that have been actioned.”

The report, ‘Victorian perinatal services performance indicators
2012–13’, stated that health services that performed below average with
health outcomes for babies and mothers “must understand the extent
of suboptimal performance issues and address these”.

Pregnancy terminations and “deaths due to congenital anomalies” were not counted in the data, which was adjusted for the size of each hospital.

According to the report, 230 women gave birth to a total of 232 babies at WDHS during 2012.

WDHS chief executive Rohan Fitzgerald said he recognised the importance of the report as a measure over the period, but it did not accurately reflect the Health Service’s performance over recent years.

“The (gestation standardised perinatal mortality ratio) is an internationally recognised measure of perinatal mortality that includes all deaths, including extremely premature babies, still births and newborn deaths. It does not assess the potential avoidability of any of the deaths,” he said.

“I am deeply saddened for any family that goes through the experience of
losing a baby during labour or after a delivery.

“With every birth our aim is to reduce the risks for both mother and baby as far as practical, although we know that in some cases the risks remain high.”

Despite Ms Hennessy’s statement that no health services were a concern
in regards to baby death rates, the Victorian Government will move to
establish new reporting mechanisms and specific targeting of regional
pregnancy outcomes.

A state-wide perinatal autopsy service will be established along with perinatal morbidity and mortality committees in each region.

“This expert committee will review any perinatal death occurring in that
region every three months,” the Health Minister’s statement said.
“The Department of Health and Human Services will review all of the state’s perinatal services to identify if any improvements can be made.”

Australia’s medical practitioner registration board, AHPRA, which is
in charge of handling complaints about doctors and surgeons, will get a new notification service to automatically inform health services about
investigations into their staff.

“Staff at all health services which provide maternity services will
be required to undertake intensive training, including one led by the Royal
Women’s Hospital, to help them better identify, address and alert risks during birth,” the Health minister’s statement

“A new state-wide perinatal plan will
be developed”.

Mr Fitzgerald said he had confi dence in his team to provide high quality
maternity services to the local community.

“I am confident that we have the staff, systems and processes in place
to support the delivery of safe and appropriate obstetric care to women in
our region,” he said.

“I would encourage any women that have concerns about any aspect of their care to contact Western District Health
Service direct.”

The WDHS community liaison phone number for WDHS is 5551 8583 and
AHPRA’s phone number is 1300 419 495.

NBN is on its way

The Hamilton Spectator – October 20, 2015

THE National Broadband Network will be coming to thousands of local homes from early 2017 as part of the infrastructure project’s new three-year plan.

The plan, which was released on Friday, states that construction of wired NBN internet services for 4900 Hamilton premises will begin in the first quarter of 2017, along with 700 premises in Coleraine.

Casterton will see 900 premises begin to be connected from the second half of 2017. All three towns will get the NBN through the ‘Fibre-to-the-Node’ (FTTN) type of connection, which involves running optic fibre cable to each street and then using the existing copper phone lines to deliver
services to each household.

NBNCo’s Victoria spokesperson told The Spectator that the company expected local FTTN projects would be completed in “under a year, in most circumstances” once construction had begun.

FTTN was introduced by the incoming Coalition Government in 2013 as a
replacement for Labor’s original plan to run optic fibre directly to each household.

Then-Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the alternative technology would be cheaper and faster to roll out across the nation, but has faced claims that the decades-old copper network may
struggle to cope.

According to the report, construction has also begun on Penshurst’s fixed wireless NBN service, which will broadcast 4G-style internet to rooftop antennas.

Fixed wireless should be rolled out to 270 premises around Penshurst within the next 12 months, and is already available at nine locations within about 40 minute’s drive of Hamilton.

More remote users should also benefit from the launch of the new NBN satellite service, which will replace the notoriously slow interim satellite service that is almost unusable for many agricultural subscribers.

Wannon MP Dan Tehan said the new roll-out plan was “is a huge step forward” and “demonstrates the Coalition’s commitment to rural and regional Australia in closing the digital divide”.

“The Coalition Government understands that internet access is important for our community and will transform education, health care and other critical online services,” he said.

“The Coalition Government recognises that consumers want fast broadband as soon as possible. All services over the NBN will give Wannon businesses, agricultural producers and consumers a brighter future with the potential to be more efficient and productive.

“Families will also benefit from the vastly higher bandwidth available, delivering greater access and choices for educational resources for homework, study and entertainment.”

FTTN promises speeds up to four times faster than what is currently offered by the fastest ADSL2+ connections in Hamilton’s CBD.

Private Push for HILAC

The Hamilton Spectator – October 20, 2015

HAMILTON’S Indoor Leisure and Aquatic Centre could have more of its functions taken over by private businesses as Southern Grampians Shire Council voted unanimously for recommendations designed to stem mounting losses.

Councillors were presented in Wednesday’s meeting with a list of
‘key recommendations’ of a HILAC Enterprise Review, commissioned from external consultants by the Shire late last year.

Shire services director Bronwyn Herbert told councillors that the report had “looked at the governance and management arrangements and identified some operational and financial improvements that can be undertaken over the next several years: a five to 10-year timeframe”.

The report had recommended the shire develop a business unit, business case, and marketing and asset management plans to “substantially increase profitability” and achieve “council’s financial objectives”.

However, Cr Dennis Dawson successfully moved an amendment to delete a number of recommendations that would increase the shire’s involvement in running HILAC, and added recommendations to open up more of the facility to private businesses.

Community members and other stakeholders will now be asked to consider a proposal that the aquatic education programs be run by an external operator.

The report’s authors, Adelaide-based Tredwell Management Services, had already recommended that the Shire seek expressions of interest
for a new gym contract, as well as “additional leisure activities and dry sport provision (with the exception of basketball)”.

Cr Dawson said the amended recommendations were needed to
turn around rising costs and declining expense recovery rates.

“HILAC has 51 individual fees, it’s got a projected net cost of $1.3 million for the shire and if you include it with losses made from the pools it’s $2m all up,” he said.

“The expense recovery for HILAC has deteriorated from 2006/2007 from 82 per cent to 43 per cent in 2014/2015.”

Cr Dawson argued that the Shire, which owns HILAC, would not be able to significantly reduce costs for its own services because of regulatory and wage cost inflexibility, noting that the shire “employs 34 staff at a cost of $1 million” at the centre.

Cr Dawson said the report had provided the Shire with “an alternative structure” which “outlines quite clearly how $350,000 of that can be taken off right now.”

“Council should not be in the business of running HILAC programs,” he said.

“It cannot do so efficiently because of the nature of governments and the control required. And it cannot do so economically because of the wage structures that are in place because of council’s EBA and the number of staff that are there.”

Cr Dawson said HILAC received enough visitors for certain functions to be profitable for private operators that could more easily reduce their costs for staffing and service delivery.

“This centre is particularly well-used and the report tells us that almost a quarter of a million visitors go through per annum,” he said.

“I would suggest that if any business in Hamilton that had an average of 5000 people walking through the door (per week), it would make money.

“We cannot, and have not been able to make money out of this centre for 30 years, and there’s no indication in this report that we would be able to do so in the future, whatever management option was chosen.”

Crs Albert Calvano, Bruach Colliton, Paul Battista and Katrina Rainsford expressed qualified support for the details of Cr Dawson’s amendment.

Cr Dawson said he “agreed on every point” but said the main pool should remain a shire operation because its costs would be too high and it would be better to “subsidise” HILAC’s main facility and use a “hybrid model” of partial privatisation.

“We have gone down the pathway for good reason because this facility is starting to cost more and more in operation each year,” Cr Colliton said.

He also called for short-term improvements to the change rooms and general appearance of HILAC.

Cr Dawson had also moved that the food and beverage vendors at HILAC be put out to tender to increase “availability” as well as presentation and variety.

“With a potential average customer base of 5000 people a week, there must be an arrangement for (the café kiosk) to be run on a more commercial basis than present,” Cr Dawson said.
“It is presently limited in hours, both morning and evening, which are particular times of high use and it’s closed.”

Cr Colliton said “with the right people in there (the canteen) can certainly do quite well.

Cr Calvano said he was “for the motion” but felt “a little uncomfortable” that the shire had made a “break” with the original report and its consultation process with staff and community

“I feel a little uncomfortable that we don’t have the background. We should have more information,” Cr Calvano said.

Cr Dawson responded that his amendments were supported by material
provided in the enterprise review’s report.

Cr Rainsford said she was also in favour of the motion and if the changes were implemented it might result in a “more engaging, more useful experience”.

“I, too, think there should be an entrepreneurial and community ownership and involvement in the centre.”
Cr Rainsford said she was glad to see a recommendation for more vending machines removed and called for the shire to “recognise the significance of the basketball club to the history of the centre”.

Cr Battista backed the amendments and said he would “welcome community feedback on what is being proposed” and there were some short-term improvements to car parking, drop off points for children, and lighting that should be made.

“It is a very complex centre, there are a lot of sports that work out of the centre but I think for a long time we have had reports come to council on improving it and we have come so far with the centre and this is what we have to do for our ratepayers,” he said.

Cr Battista also backed a suggestion from Cr Rainsford that the shire copy other local governments that had slashed season pass fees to $99 to boost attendance.

“It’s important that we work towards making sure that everyone can be involved in (the centre) and it’s not too expensive for lower social economic areas to be able to have their sports and keep up their fitness and health,” Cr Battista said.

Glenelg River to stop flowing this summer

The Hamilton Spectator – October 15, 2015

THE Glenelg River’s upper sections are “quite likely” to stop flowing this summer and create impacts for the environment, agriculture and recreation users.

Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority chief executive Kevin Wood blamed “record low” rainfall for the likely river flow stoppage and said his organisation had reserves of water to help with its environmental responsibilities.

“We have experienced quite low rainfall,” he said.

“The last 12 months have seen record low

The State Government has also been provided with a water ‘snapshot’ report that predicts that the Glenelg and Wimmera rivers will likely stop flowing.

Wannon Water managing director Andrew Jeffers said any lack of Glenelg River water flow would not affect local customers and Hamilton’s reserves were more than double the predicted usage.

“Hamilton system customers are supplied with water from a very secure supply system sourced from streams in the southern Grampians catchment,” he said.

“If required during times of drought, Wannon Water also has an annual entitlement to 2,120 megalitres of water in Rocklands Reservoir, which can be transferred via the Hamilton- Grampians Pipeline to top up Hamilton storages.

“Wannon Water’s Rocklands Reservoir entitlement is also a source of water supply for Balmoral. Currently, Rocklands Reservoir is holding more than 62,000 megalitres of water and in 2014/201515 Wannon Water extracted only 46 megalitres to supply water for Balmoral customers.”

Mr Wood said rainfall rates had been in decline since the 2010 flood and that Rocklands Reservoir has been reduced to 21 per cent of its target level.

In response to lower reservoir levels, GWMWater had released only one per cent of its normal allowance for environmental flows.

Mr Wood said GHCMA had nine gigalitres of water “saved from previous years” and 3000 megalitres could be used to replenish deep pools and deal with water quality issues.

“We will concentrate on maintaining areas of native fish so that we can repopulate other areas when rainfall replenishes them,” he said.

Low rainfall over the long term, combined with a number of recent days with high temperatures, has had a devastating effect on some crops in Victoria, particularly in the Mallee region.

Mr Wood said that fl ow stoppages in the Glenelg River would also affect farmers using the water for livestock and dam replenishment and dry rivers would no longer act as natural barriers for livestock.

“I would advise recreational users to be careful with swimming and boats as water hazards will present larger risk of injury because water level is so low,” he said.

The National Party last week targeted Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville in Parliament, ridiculing a plan to use the $4 billion Wonthaggi desalination plant to help ease water shortages in country Victoria.

“It is astonishing that such a proposal would even be raised as a concept, as there is simply no pipeline that can deliver water from Wonthaggi to western Victoria,” Lowan MP Emma Kealy said.

“The minister has had to hastily backtrack and clarify that she does not want to truck desalinated water hundreds of kilometres across the state.”

Ms Kealy also criticised “the transfer of 5000 megalitres of water into the system’s dried-out secondary storage in Toolondo Reservoir”.

“Farmers downstream on the Glenelg River would love to have this quantity of water available right now to boost a system under stress
after a dry winter,” she said.

“Instead this water appears to be being lost to evaporation, thanks to the water minister’s transfer of it to Toolondo.”

Ms Neville had earlier retaliated by saying that Labor governments had built Victoria’s ‘water grid’ while the Coalition had their “heads in the sand” and were “wasting taxpayers’ money at the Office of Living Victoria.”

Gas hearing in Hamilton

Beach Energy drilling for shale gas in South Australia. Photo: Beach Energy.
Beach Energy drilling for shale gas in South Australia. Photo: Beach Energy.

The Hamilton Spectator – September 26, 2015

A WIDE range of individuals and organisations provided testimony to a Hamilton hearing of Victoria’s parliamentary unconventional gas inquiry on Wednesday.

The individual speakers were local members of a variety of anti-gas groups or alliances, though they had varied opinions on whether the industry should be subject to an ongoing moratorium, a permanent ban, or rigorous regulation that favoured agriculture.

Mineral exploration company Mecrus Resources provided testimony on a potential oil shale deposit in south-west Victoria.

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation testified about its difficulty in managing native title agreements with gas companies.

Wannon Water gave testimony that it had not completed its own assessment of likely surface and ground water impacts from a gas
Lowan MP Emma Kealy told The Spectator that she was “surprised that the inquiry was originally not going to have a hearing in south-west Victoria, given all the exploration licences we have in the region”.

“I fought hard for a local hearing and that was worthwhile given the
large turnout,” she said.

“It was also an opportunity for myself to hear from local farmers, especially towards the end of the hearing when they spoke of their passion for the land and their views and concerns about unconventional gas.”

‘Risks not fully understood’: Mayor

HAMILTON’S State Government Gas Inquiry hearing
kicked off with an audience of about 40 people from
the local and Portland regions.

At the time of publication, representatives from four local governments had given testimony about a potential onshore unconventional gas industry on Wednesday.

A representative from Glenelg Shire said there was a concern that the industry would result in a reduction in environmental standards and risk to water and might damage the region’s green image.

Southern Grampians Mayor Peter Dark said that he shared those concerns and pointed to two separate motions passed by councillors that backed the “importance of protecting food, fibre, water aquifers”.

“In June 2015 The Southern Grampians Shire Council formally declared itself a gasfield free region due to community concerns,” he said.

“There is possibly a significant risk to agricultural

“The risks are not fully understood.”

Southern Grampians Shire Mayor Peter Dark. Photo: Hamilton Spectator.
Southern Grampians Shire Mayor Peter Dark. Photo: Hamilton Spectator.

Cr Dark said Southern Grampians was “dependent on agriculture” as it was the sector that provided the largest source of employment.

He said that the region had higher value per hectare than many other areas and “we have half a million hectares in agricultural production”.

“Southern Grampians Shire has invested heavily in a land use study to diversify local agriculture,” he said.

“We have untapped potential; we are well-placed to continue to support global food production with all the conditions to be a significant player.

“We have an obvious natural advantage: groundwater. The impact of gas needs to be considered.”

Cr Dark said that, compared to the “10/15 year lifespan of a gas field”, the “potential adverse impacts have a much longer lifespan”.

“The royalties paid to the State Government are potentially much less than the cost of damage,” he said.

Cr Dark’s testimony was met with a “hear hear” from
some in the audience.

A representative from Conrangamite shire said that the region’s existing onshore conventional gas plants provided significant employment.

He said that Conrangamite was one of the few areas that had “direct experience with onshore gas” and non-hydraulic fracturing operations “should be exempt” from the current moratorium.

“It is difficult to make informed decisions unless we know that the resource exists,” he said.

The Corangamite representative also said that there was a risk of the existing local gas operations could be put at risk by getting caught up in the push against unconventional gas.

A mineral exploration company, Wannon Water, local farmers and an anti-gas activist group were scheduled to give testimony at the hearing.

The human cost to farmers

SOUTH-WEST Victorian farmers have all spoken against the prospect of a new onshore unconventional gas industry, giving extensive and at times emotional testimony to a gas inquiry hearing in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Victorian Parliament’s Environment and Planning Committee, made up of MPs from a wide range of parties, heard from a mineral exploration company, Wannon Water and local Aboriginal traditional owners.

By far the largest number of individual speakers was made up of farmers from around the Hamilton and Portland regions, along with other locals.

Unconventional gas and hydraulic fracturing technology were compared by one farmer with the past industrial contamination scandals of DET and asbestos.

Another farmer said that he and his peers just wanted “to be left

Branxholme farmer Colin Frawley said an unconventional gas
industry would “put us at risk”.

“For our livestock, we must have underground water,” he said.

Without groundwater, he said his farming business “would be totally compromised”.

“Gas may be very profitable but we as a farming community have
to carry the risk,” he said

“They will walk away in 10/15 years. We would still be here paying taxes and contributing to the community.”

Mr Frawley described the prospect of fracking as a “marketing nightmare” for the region’s “clean and green image” with wholesale and retail buyers.

After 18 months of fighting the proposal for an onshore unconventional gas industry, signs of wear and tear are staring to show.
Drumborg farmer Gary Everett, who described himself as a “passionate lamb producer”, talked of the “psychological burden” from campaigning.

He said stress had been placed on families and marriages.

Mr Everett primarily talked about his own land, saying his father bought the property 63 years ago and was a “pioneer” in a new community.
“You could buy land, you could buy a house, but you made the
farm and the family home” he said.

“Drumborg is a great community. We are fighting for our survival.”

Mr Everett said he was a member of one of the 67 anti-gas groups across the state, and they were gaining considerable followers on a daily basis.

“Some of us have become dismayed, let down or left angry by people in Government departments, politicians, energy companies, our own farming bodies the VFF and UDV, because for saying this industry can coexist with our farms.”

“This isn’t true.”

He became choked up when talking about the possibility of farmers being arrested for “trying to protect the land for future generation”.

Byaduk farmer Aggie Stevenson told a “story of little girl on a farm” who grew up with clean and fresh food, water and air.

“Someone is threatening to take away all these things, purely
driven by greed,” she said.

“I implore you not to be the villains in the story, be the heroes.”

Eastern Metropolitan Greens MP Samantha Dunn told the hearing that Mrs Stevenson’s story “goes to the heart of the level of anxiety, the psychological burden that is taking its toll”.

Eastern Metropolitan Labor MP Shaun Leane asked Mr Frawley to expand on the marketing issue.

Mr Frawley said he had neighbours that export food to Asia and that “Our point of difference is our image, and it you compromise that, you lose it.”

Mr Everett said that he had consulted with Meat and Livestock Australia, which had told him that the responsibility for meat contamination from petroleum was with the owners.

The Victorian State MPs on the committee for the inquiry into onshore unconventional gas in Victoria. Photo: Parliament of Victoria
The Victorian State MPs on the committee for the inquiry into onshore
unconventional gas
in Victoria. Photo: Parliament of Victoria

It has been almost 18 months since one of the first anti-fracking
meetings in south-west Victoria.

The one meeting in Digby saw many others follow and the ‘Lock the Gate’ movement grew from an outsider curiosity to spawning local variants.

Some of those local variants are now apparently trying to assert their independence from the ‘Friends of the Earth’ network of professional activists, possibly to gain more credibility with conservative MPs.

Western Victoria MP Simon Ramsay said during the hearing that he found it “troubling” that there were so many anti-gas groups “running around with different agendas”.

Along with committee chair David Davis, Mr Ramsay appeared to have difficulty at times with establishing the organisational and financial structures of various anti-gas groups and regional alliances, as well as their core beliefs.

Eastern Metropolitan Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva said the testimony given on Wednesday was similar to that from Gippsland but in Hamilton he had been given the “most detailed, real world example” of potential
agribusiness impacts.

It has been almost two years since the State Government’s ‘Independent Gas Market Taskforce’ report, now colloquially referred to as the ‘Reith report’, which recommended that Victoria “proactively” seek
onshore unconventional gas development.

With about a year to go before an election, the then-Victorian Coalition Government played down the report and recommitted to an industry moratorium.

Aboriginal owners not informed of fracking

GUNDITJ Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation was forced to renegotiate a prior Native Title Agreement due to a gas exploration company not mentioning that it planned to use hydraulic fracturing.

Gunditj Mirring chief executive Damein Bell told a Hamilton hearing of
Victoria’s parliamentary gas inquiry on Wednesday that the Aboriginal corporation had held a number of meetings and exchanged “hundreds of pages of documents” with an unnamed gas company.

“But nothing mentioning it (fracking),” Mr Bell said.

He told the hearing that the potential for fracking, the controversial gas
extraction technique at the centre of protests against unconventional gas, was only discovered when Gunditj Mirring members read the terms of the State Government exploration permit.

“The only reason they had to consult with us was the Native Title Act; I don’t know how they would have negotiated if they hadn’t been forced to.
“The second round of negotiations was friendly, in good faith; we asked why they didn’t mention fracking in the first round.

“They said it wasn’t a public issue back then.”

Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Damein Bell. Photo: GHCMA
Gunditj Mirring Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Damein Bell. Photo: GHCMA

The inquiry’s committee of MPs asked Mr Bell which gas exploration
company had required a second round of negotiations.

Mr Bell declined and said it was “confidential” but invited the committee
to look up which companies held Petroleum Exploration Permits (PEP) over Gunditjmara land.

Earlier in the hearing, Mr Bell said that the Aboriginal Corporation had successfully negotiated native title land use for exploration in 2013.

Several ‘monthly full briefing’ meetings were then held in 2014 to discuss
the issue of potential fracking on land within the Gunditjmara Native Title

Mr Bell said the purpose of the briefings was to “gather all members to discuss business and make decisions” and said the gas company in question also attended some of those briefings.

The Spectator reported in April 2014 that Gunditjmara People were
to, in the words of Mr Bell, “revisit” their previous native title agreement over shale and tight gas exploration permits in south-west Victoria.

Adelaide-based oil and gas company Beach Energy had a large stake, along with other companies, in two major exploration permits in south west Victoria.

Beach Energy’s 2013 annual report stated that the company “and its
participants were awarded PEP 171 and PEP 150 in Victoria after completing negotiations with Native Title Claimants”.

At the time, a spokesperson for Beach Energy did not deny being involved in Native Title renegotiations but said it was committed to fulfilling its obligations under Native Title.

Beach Energy's gas drilling rig in the Cooper Basin, South Australia. Photo: Beach Energy.
Beach Energy’s gas drilling rig in the Cooper Basin, South Australia. Photo: Beach Energy.

Mecrus Resources, Somerton Energy, Bridgeport Eromanga Energy, Bass Strait Oil Company Limited and Mawson Petroleum also hold Petroleum Exploration Permits in areas covered by Gunditjmara Native Title areas.

When asked about the status of the Native Title renegotiation, Mr Bell said the Aboriginal corporation was “taking advantage of current moratorium” on onshore gas and the dispute resolution process was still open.

Eastern Metropolitan Greens MP Samantha Dunn asked Mr Bell if all extraction techniques should be included in native title negotiations.

Mr Bell said negotiating parties “shouldn’t hide that from one another”.

The gas inquiry committee was itself the subject of another complaint from Mr Bell.
Mr Bell said he was “extremely disappointed” that the inquiry’s interim report, which was handed down on September 1 this year, contained “no references to traditional owners”.

Inquiry committee chair David Davis MP said that it was only an interim report and that the committee “will have more to say” in the final report.

Mr Davis asked Mr Bell how indigenous views could be adequately represented in the report.

Mr Bell said that Native Title holders were the “first port of call” for new
industrial developments but the State Government process needs to provide opportunity for comment from Indigenous people.

He noted that Native Title holders could be taken to national arbitration, or be subject to overrides from the State Government, if companies accused them of negotiating in bad faith.

Northern Victoria Shooters and Fishers MP Daniel Young asked Mr Bell how the State Government could override native title holders.

Mr Bell said the Government had to “prove that they will not destroy our land” but Indigenous people “have no guarantees”.

Inquiry told further studies
needed in risks to water

WANNON Water has told a Hamilton hearing of Victoria’s parliamentary unconventional gas inquiry that it has not done its own assessment of the risks from a proposed onshore drilling and fracking.

A committee of MPs was told that State Government would most likely be left liable for cleanup costs if something went wrong with water supplies and the gas company responsible was unable to pay.

Branch manager of asset planning, Peter Wilson, told the hearing that a Victorian Government report had found a “low risk of aquifer depressurisation”, a low risk of water contamination, and a low risk of land subsidence from potential gas development.

Mr Wilson did say there was still “considerable uncertainty” due to “limited data availability” and risks to ground and surface water “need to be further studied”.

“The region is highly variable and some sites may have an unacceptable risk, particularly if community drinking water is present,” he said.

Gas inquiry committee chair David Davis MP asked what consultation had occurred between Wannon Water and gas exploration companies. Mr Wilson replied that he had “been in the role of planning for 15 years and been never approached by gas company”.

Eastern Metropolitan Labor MP Shaun Leane asked if the use of steel and concrete well casings could prevent cross contamination between saline and fresh aquifers.

Mr Wilson said that “concrete is a very robust material, considered to be best practise” but he would not say whether it would last indefinitely.

Northern Victoria Shooters and Fishers Party MP, Daniel Young, asked if the issue of well failure could apply to ordinary water bores as well.

Mr Wilson said it could but the “ramifications were different”.

“Linked wells won’t destroy the water resource with salinity, but things like introducing chemicals unfit for human consumption will,” he said.

Mr Wilson also said Wannon Water does not have a direct role in applications for drilling under Victoria’s mining and
petroleum acts.

360 million barrels under western Victoria

SOUTH – WEST Victoria’s oil shale deposit is between 15 and 30 times thicker than commercially viable deposits in the United States, according to mining exploration company Mecrus Resources.

Mecrus Resources believes there is a deposit of 360 million barrels of oil contained within its two exploration licence areas between Casterton and the South Australian border.

The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain 'world class' shale oil deposits. Graphic: JASON TULLY.
The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain ‘world class’ shale oil deposits. Graphic: JASON TULLY.

The company’s ultimate plan to develop the deposit would see a total of 16 wells drilled on a single site about one hectare in size.

These wells would go down 2500 metres to access the oil shale, which is believed to be contained in a layer that is 1500m thick.

Horizontal drilling would be used, with side wells trailing off between two and 3.5 kilometres in any direction.

If one of these sites were successful, then Mecrus could “clone” the operation for “multiple” potential oil deposits thought to be in the region.

These new details were contained in spoken testimony to Victoria’s parliamentary inquiry into unconventional gas, which held a hearing in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Mecrus Resources managing director Barry Richards told the inquiry committee of MPs that Mecrus was a private company that was not obliged to give public statements, but it wanted to engage with the community.

The Spectator reported on Tuesday that a written submission from Mecrus to the inquiry stated that the “prospectivity” of the south-west Victoria deposit was “beyond doubt”.

Mecrus indicated that the deposit could produce $600 million in royalty payments to the State Government over 40 years, putting its commercial value at up to $6 billion.

Almost all the information that Mecrus provided to the inquiry has been in relation to a potential oil shale deposit contained with an 1500 square kilometre exploration region between Strathdownie and Lake Mundi, about 10km west of Casterton.

Mecrus senior petroleum consultant, Dr Rodney Halyburton, told the hearing that the oil shale industry in the United States “got very excited” when they found deposits of between 50 and 100 metres in thickness.

Dr Halyburton said the company’s assessment, along with an independent
study, of the potential deposit was “based on very conservative numbers”.

He said the study was “focused primarily” on a well drilled in 2006 that was the “only onshore well in Australia” that had been producing oil shale, and he found it “amazing” that oil had started flowing from the test well while it was being drilled.

Mecrus Resources managing director Barry Richards. Photo: Mecrus Resources
Mecrus Resources managing director Barry Richards. Photo: Mecrus Resources

Mr Richards also said the company’s report on south-west Victoria was “conservative, but it does indicate significant resources in our area”.

Eastern Metropolitan Liberal MP Richard Dalla-Riva said the inquiry had previously heard from areas in Victoria with “lots of population, lots of dairy,” but not so much over near Casterton.
“I’m not talking any disrespect to be people over near South Australia; it seems to me that that’s an area where it may have limited impact. Could that happen in this area?” Mr Dalla-Riva asked.

Mr Richards replied that everything the company had been talking about
at the hearing concerned its exploration permits between Casterton and SA.

He described Mecrus as a “diverse organisation” and a “significant explorer of resources in Victoria” with over 140 employees, a “large percentage” of which were in Victoria.

Mr Richards said Mecrus itself had completed no drilling in south-west
Victoria and its further assessments since gaining the exploration licence were based on soil samples, water samples and ground
surveys. “Our people get out and talk to the landholders,” he said.

“That provides feedback to management and as exploration continues we will make ourselves available to the community.

“We have licences in Victoria that have Native Title negotiations and
agreements in place. We believe we are a very responsible community member.”

Mr Richards said the company had tried to contact various groups about its oil exploration, including the Victorian Farmers Federation, but claimed that emails had not been returned.

Mecrus’s written submission stated that hydraulic fracturing, AKA ‘fracking’, would not be an “enabling technology” for shale oil in south-west Victoria as the rock layers were “naturally fractured”.

However, fracking would likely be used to multiply the oil “recovery factor”, or percentage of oil that can be successfully extracted from the ground.

In response to the committee’s questions about safety precautions, Dr Halyburton said that “fracking has been conducted for 50 years, it’s nothing new”.

“People have to be careful. With cowboys, things can go wrong. But we will do everything according to the book,” he said.

Dr Halyburton said the oil industry had learned to be careful with spillage because accidents at offshore rigs were much more difficult to clean up than at onshore operations.

Eastern Victoria Labor MP Harriet Shing asked if an oil industry would create a net economic loss for agriculture, particularly if the marketing image of prime beef was damaged by the proximity to an oil field.

Mr Richards said “I actually fail to see how our industry would damage other industries.”

“Victoria’s lobster industry is huge throughout the world, yet we have
Bass Strait (offshore gas production).”

When asked who would pay for costs and damages in a “worst case scenario”,

Dr Halyburton said the company would take out “significant insurance” for any oil production operation.

According to Dr Halyburton, rock cuttings and excess gas from any oil project would be “reinjected” into the ground.

Gas could also be burned off in a ‘flare’, but that was not likely to happen and a local landfill would also be needed for some waste.

In terms of water management, Dr Halyburton said “Mecrus
will use proprietary technology” from its wholly owned subsidiary company ‘Desalin8’.

According to Desaln8’s website, the company offers “opportunities for extracting high quality freshwater supplies from poor quality brackish groundwater using In Situ Desalination (ISD) technology”.

Farmers voice concern over proposed oil shale project

The Hamilton Spectator – September 24, 2015

SOUTH-West Victorian farmers have expressed concern about a proposed oil shale drilling project between Casterton and the South Australian border.

They say that their focus is on what will happen to food production over the next century, rather than the economic benefits over the lifespan of an unconventional oil or gas field, which can be as low as a few years.

The Spectator reported on Tuesday that a Melbourne-based industrial engineering and miner exploration company had told the Victorian Parliament’s gas inquiry it was “beyond doubt” that there was a prospective oil shale deposit in the south west.
Mecrus Resources wrote in a submission to the inquiry that it had “invested significant money to date in detailed exploration” and it believed the deposit was “world class” and could last 40 years.

The company has two exploration licences covering 1500 square kilometres between Strathdownie and Lake Mundi.

The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain 'world class' shale oil deposits. Graphic: JASON TULLY.
The exploration licence areas EL5298 and EL5297 in south-west Victoria, held by Mecrus Resources and believed by the company to contain ‘world class’ shale oil deposits. Graphic: JASON TULLY.

Mecrus will probably have to use the ‘fracking’ extraction technique to improve yields at the oil field if the project goes ahead, and there is the possibility of natural gas at the site as well.

The issue of fracking has generated a considerable groundswell of opposition, which includes many local farmers who see it as a threat to agriculture.

Mecrus has stated that a successful shale oil project would bring “massive flow on effects for local communities” in terms of new jobs and businesses.

With beef, lamb and wool prices at high levels, farmers are planning to tell Victorian MPs that there is a strong economic case to give priority to farming.

Byaduk North prime lamb and premium beef farmer Mal Rowe told The Spectator that “extremely productive agricultural land” was being put at risk from oil and gas development.

He said south-west Victorian pasture was averaging 20 sheep per hectare but Queensland and NSW could only manage one to three sheep per HA.

“We are adamant; we are not going to back off,” he said.

“There is a buyer who has been sourcing steers form this region for 25 years.

“They are sent to Japan as top-quality restaurant beef. He knows exactly what animals he is going to get.

“It would only take one thing to upset this.”

Mr Rowe believes that oil drilling between Casterton and South Australia would threaten aquifers that provide water for local towns and farms.

“You have got to look at the percentage of wells that will fail: about one per cent. I don’t know the number of wells they might drill but some of them will eventually fail and that will put aquifers at risk,” he said.

“Forever is a very long time; I know that wells are encased in a number of layers of steel and concrete but they will never be as strong as the substrates.”

Mr Rowe pointed to recent ‘Food Not Gas’ rallies across the region, which have attracted 100 to 300 people at each event, as evidence that many other locals shared his views.

Mecrus specifically mentioned local aquifers in its submission to Parliament, stating that “The oil shale is quite deep and it is significantly separated from any utilised groundwater aquifers”.

A number of local landowners, along with about 1000 people, attended an anti-gas rally in Melbourne on Sunday that called for a permanent ban on fracking and onshore unconventional gas.

Victoria currently has a temporary moratorium on most aspects of onshore gas but its future will be influenced by the inquiry that received Mecrus’s submission, along with 1700 others.

The inquiry was due to hold a hearing in Hamilton yesterday, with speakers from local Aboriginal groups, governments, farmers and Wannon Water.

Mr Rowe said he was “pleasantly surprised by the number of people and overwhelmed by the support we got from both country and city people”.

“There are so many people opposed to the development of an unconventional gas industry, right across Victoria from Gippsland and the south west.”

Mr Rowe said he would be willing to support a strict regulatory regime instead of a ban “but the compliance would have to be so high as to leave no doubt that it wouldn’t compromise agriculture”.

Petroleum industry lobby group APPEA has told the Victorian inquiry that an onshore unconventional gas industry would boost the economies and populations of country areas.

As mining jobs and investment slows down in Australia’s northern states, there was some interest from ex-locals in returning to the region if a similar industry took off.

Training course scam net could include our region

September 19, 2015

VOCATIONAL training promoters have been going door-to-door offering courses to vulnerable people in Warrnambool and Ballarat, leaving them deep in debt, and they may have also targeted Hamilton and Coleraine.

The Victorian Department of Education and Training says some training colleges are engaged in an “abuse” of a program that allows people to pay for their education with a Federal Government loan.

The Age newspaper this week published an investigation into training ‘brokers’ and door-to-door salesmen that were allegedly targeting disadvantaged people in country Victoria with promises of a better life through vocational courses.

Huge commissions are being offered to salesmen because the training college gets thousands of dollars in government-supplied fees upfront when a ‘student’ signs up.

A broker for a Melbourne-based training college allegedly told salesmen that they should target Housing Commission flats and other areas where residents would have no hope of ever repaying their debt the government under the FEE-HELP scheme.

Due to the huge profit margins for a successful sign-up, salesmen are offering ‘free’ laptops or iPad tablet computers to lure people into the deal.

This is despite a Federal Government ban on sign-up gifts that came into effect earlier this year.

Some new ‘students’ are being left with debts of up to $18,000 for training courses that they will have great difficulty in completing.

A Victorian Department of Education spokeswoman said “we are aware of activities where brokers have marketed VET FEE-HELP loans for training courses to people in Warrnambool”.

“The Department is aware of similar incidents in Ballarat but not in any other western Victorian communities. We have had complaints also in other regional communities over the past 12 months.

“These complaints have been referred to the national regulator, ASQA, and to the Federal Government.

“The Victorian Government has raised repeated concerns with the Federal Government about abuse of VET FEE-HELP loans and marketing practices by some providers.”

A couple from Euroa, who both have intellectual disabilities and struggle with reading and writing, told The Age that they were enrolled in vocational courses by a door-to-door salesman.

They claim the salesman coached them through the pre-enrolment literacy and numeracy tests.

a 'Scam Alert' uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan's website on September 10
a ‘Scam Alert’ uploaded to Wannon MP Dan Tehan’s website on September 10

There is some evidence to suggest that the training course salesmen have targeted areas in south-west and western Victoria beyond the regional population centres.

One of The Spectator’s Facebook followers from Hamilton said she was targeted by a similar training course scam except that it took place over the phone.

On September 10 Wannon MP Dan Tehan posted a ‘Scam Alert’ on his website, writing that he had been “advised of a scam involving VET Fee Help Courses, operating particularly in the Coleraine area”.

“I have heard from a number of residents in Wannon that individuals are driving door to door taking personal information from people as part of a fake enrolment process under the guise of getting a free laptop. Personal information they are seeking includes your Driver’s Licence, Medicare card and your Tax File Number.

“If you encounter anyone who claims to be from a VET FEE HELP Course or Education provider, please do not provide them with any of your personal information or money. I would also encourage you to report any contact with the offenders to your local police.”

The Spectator asked Mr Tehan if this website post was connected to alleged rorts investigated by The Age.

Mr Tehan did not answer directly but highlighted previous federal regulation of training course salesmen and said greater penalties and restrictions would come into force next year.

“Since we came to government we have been working to ensure the system operates with greater security for students and less opportunity for manipulation,” Mr Tehan said.

“This has included the banning of inducements, banning course withdrawal fees, banning misleading statements around free courses, and providing greater compliance structures that include penalties for brokers and providers.

“In addition to the restrictions already being put in place, we will be banning the levying of the full debt load for courses in one hit and have the power to remit debt and recoup costs from providers with severe penalties from January 1, 2016.”

Hamilton Police Sergeant Paul Stanhope told The Spectator that no complaints had been received in the last two months concerning door-to-door training salesmen.