Farming company on water theft charges

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An Invergordon company has been convicted and ordered to pay legal costs over water theft charges.

A company that is no longer trading has been convicted of water theft after using water that it was not allocated by Goulburn-Murray Water.

Chatsworth Park Holdings Pty Ltd pleaded guilty in Shepparton Magistrates’ Court to three counts of unlawfully taking water and one of taking water without authority.

G-MW prosecutor Jaclyn Cameron told the court the company dairy-farmed and cultivated crops and livestock on its irrigated property at Invergordon and extracted water from the East Goulburn Main Channel in the Shepparton Irrigation Area.

Ms Cameron said while the company had a G-MW water-use licence, it took more water than the allocation allowed.

She said 21.4 Ml of unauthorised water was taken on four occasions between May 16, 2019 and February 15, 2020.

At the time, the mean price of water was $580.50/Ml.

After being sent a warning letter in August 22, 2019, the accused bought 7.3 Ml of water to correct some of the overuse.

However, Ms Cameron said there were further letters sent by G-MW in September 2019 and February 2020, but more water was used and the accused either failed or refused to correct a total overuse of 35.28 Ml.

The property was sold about September 22, 2021.

On October 1, 2021 the company received a 100 per cent water allocation.

Full restitution of the negative balance occurred when the company received a 43.1 Ml allocation through the irrigators’ share distribution project.

Defence lawyer Alexander Sheed told the court the dairy farm was owned by two corporate entities — one was Chatsworth Park Holdings, and the other corporation was put into liquidation.

“The company ran into problems when Fonterra decreased milk prices,” Mr Sheed said.

The defence solicitor told the court the company was no longer trading and as such there was “no risk of further re-offending because the company no longer owns land”.

He also argued it was not a case of some sort of scheme to defraud the water authority, rather “it has occurred in the context of insolvency”.

Mr Sheed said the company had agreed to meet the court costs of the authority, and said that should be the extent of the penalty.

“It’s a company that is a nothing now,” he said.

“There is very little value imposing penalties on something that is hollow.”

Magistrate David Faram labelled the case an “unusual” one.

“In effect I am being asked to make an order on behalf of a company that has no capacity to pay,” he said.

He convicted the company and ordered it pay $2588 to G-MW for legal costs.