Corporate watchdog to probe water markets under Coalition govt.

Corporate watchdog to probe water markets under Coalition govt.


Farm Online News
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As irrigator anger mounts, the Coalition promises ACCC will review water markets in the southern Murray Darling Basin.

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Moving to address farmer outrage in NSW and Victorian irrigation districts, the Coalition will instruct the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to conduct a review of the southern Murray Darling Basin Water Market.

It remains to be seen what the scope of an ACCC inquiry would be.

But it would be hard for the corporate watchdog to ignore a raft of controversial issues that have driven drought hit farmers to boiling point in southern NSW and Victoria.

Anger centres on the scant availability, and surging cost, of water. Issue that communities would demand be investigated include water metering, lack of transparency on water ownership and trades, regulations that allow vast volumes to be traded between valleys, and the impact of corporate speculators who don't produce food or fibre but play the market for profit.

In NSW, recent reforms require standardised water metering across the state. The compliance regime is overseen by the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR).

However, there is an exemption from metering requirements with private irrigation networks like Murrumbidgee Irrigation, Murray Irrigation, which use one central offtake from the river system to deliver irrigation supply to thousands of farmers.

Farmonline understand concerns have been raised to NRAR over the accuracy of metering equipment and the implications this could have for discrepancies over water volumes delivered and charged to farmers.

Rumours have swirled around the Basin that the ACCC has already opened an investigation into one private irrigation scheme.

On the trading front, since 2014 Basin Plan have permitted traders to buy water without owning any farmland.

That has opened the door to predatory corporate investors who buy up entitlements on the temporary market and hoard it against dry times, when farmers are forced to pay through the nose.

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All the while, the Basin Plan has seen large scale buybacks across the southern Basin reduce overall water availability.

The Basin Plan, which recovers water from irrigation to improve the environment, has become a lightning rod for all the ills impact irrigation communities.

As a result of the disruption, irrigation communities are driving a popular movement calling for the Murray Darling Basin Plan to be paused for two years.

Many irrigators want a federal Royal Commission, to unpick the market mess they find themselves in.

Both major parties oppose a Royal Commission, but it remains to be seen if Labor would also respond to farmer's concerns and if it would support the Coalition's ACCC inquiry.

The roots of discontent date back to the free-market reforms which have swept across the Murray Darling Basin and its communities since 1994.

On top of the current drought the three new big issues for family farms to contend with are corporate irrigators with deep pockets, less water overall for irrigation, and trading rules that enable water entitlements to be bought and sold across catchments - allowing bulk water to move to the highest price.

All of which has driven water prices beyond the means of family farmers.

Dairy farmers are selling out in droves, rice farmers make more money renting their water out than growing a crop, and corporate farmers are more prevalent than ever.

The viability of many towns is under threat. So too the jobs in regional processing and service industries.

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