Changes needed to control price hikes

Changes are needed to control the explosion of fees being sought by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

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A NSW community representative group believes federal Water Minister Keith Pitt should intervene to stop the MDBA charging exorbitant fees.

Along with collecting their own set of fees and charges the NSW Department of Primary Industry and Environment also collects fees from irrigators on behalf of the MDBA, which are proposed to be increased by more than 60 per cent. Irrigators believe this is being done without any transparency or justification and identification as to why the massive increase is needed.

Irrigation groups believe they are being asked to pay charges associated with the delivery of environmental water, as well as productive water.

The Murray Regional Strategy Group, which represents farmer and community organisations, is asking for an investigation into the charges which would generally be the case with any monopoly provider. It believes this should be carried out by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) or the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).

It has written to Mr Pitt asking for his support.

MRSG chair Geoff Moar said as a monopoly provider the MDBA’s charges must be subject to scrutiny, just like other monopolies.

“The MDBA has proposed that its fee component be increased by 62 per cent, with no transparency or justification to substantiate the claim. When

combined with WaterNSW increases, each landholder in the NSW Murray Valley is looking at an overall increase of a massive 28 per cent in fees and charges,” he said.

Based on a typical farm business which has 600 General Security Water Entitlements with a 50 per cent allocation (using 300ML), the combined price increase (fixed and variable) from Government charges means an additional $1,440 per year to that business.   For larger farms with more water and irrigation infrastructure this is much greater.

“Why should our irrigators be burdened with the capital cost of installing fishways and costs of agency restructures because of past regulatory failures?

Why should costs that implement the Basin Plan to benefit the environment be disproportionately worn by NSW Murray irrigators?” Mr Moar asked.

He said it is essential there is transparency between River Operational and the Environmental Management costs within the MDBA fees and charges, and the burden of environmental management costs should not be borne by the irrigator in the NSW Murray Valley.

The MRSG is also calling on changes within the MDBA, following recent announcements by Mr Pitt that there would be separation of some functions.

“Just as compliance is being separated from implementation, we request the separation of River Operations from Environmental Water Management within the MDBA to provide some transparency and assurance that irrigators are not paying the environmental implementation of the Basin Plan that was developed for ‘the good of the nation as a whole’,” Mr Moar said.

He said MRSG has welcomed the fresh approach to the Basin Plan shown by Mr Pitt and was looking forward to working with him to fix inequities that it has created.

“Our members are keen to ensure we have a Basin Plan that protects the environment and also ensures agriculture can continue to be the major economic driver in our region, creating prosperity and jobs,” Mr Moar said.

October 18, 2020