Irrigators vent at water meeting

By Alana Christensen

Irate irrigators have had their voices heard during a review of the delivery shares system as years of frustration erupted at the vocal meeting.

It was standing room only at Friday’s meeting at Shepparton’s Parklake hotel as concerns regarding the future viability of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and the region, the rising cost of water and maintenance of infrastructure, and reduced access to water boiled over.

Voices were raised throughout the meeting, with people yelling over each other on several occasions.

Calls for patience from meeting chair and delivery share review project manager Toni Radcliffe fell on deaf ears as farmers called for a more equitable system to protect their future.

‘‘This is not a done deal, we want to hear from you,’’ Ms Radcliffe said.

Intended as a one-hour meeting to hear irrigators’ feedback, the meeting time more than doubled in length as 65 individuals attempted to have their say on a host of proposed changes to the system.

Twelve months in the making, the DELWP-led review is seeking feedback for a number of proposed changes to the system including service point and distance-based pricing, altering infrastructure access fees and a re-examination of the environmental water charges.

Many irrigators voiced their concern at the amount of water leaving the region, pointing to big business, environmental water needs and the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan as factors that are increasingly making their situation untenable.

Kialla West irrigator and solicitor Charles Hart said the current delivery share system had a legacy of poor management and called for all owners of water, not simply landholders, to shoulder the costs of the system.

‘‘Everyone who owns water needs to pay for the infrastructure,’’ Mr Hart said to cheers in the room.

‘‘There’s been a genuine stuff-up in the way the policy has been delivered ... they’ve been policies on the run.’’

Mr Hart said he believed many of the proposed changes were simply ‘‘window dressing’’.

Despite many supporting the suggestion of forcing water owners or investors to pay a share of infrastructure fees, Ms Radcliffe said current Australian Competition and Consumer Commission regulations would not allow such action and the solution failed to reveal where water and infrastructure was not required or not used.

‘‘(It) doesn’t provide the signals needed to rationalise the district and ensure that holes in the district don’t lead to more expensive costs,’’ she said.

The review, which includes consultation with Goulburn-Murray Water, Lower Murray Water and other key stakeholders, is the first since reforms 10 years ago separated water and land in Victoria and introduced delivery shares.

Mooroopna orchardist Peter Hall said the past decade had seen significant changes and it needed to be reflected in charges.

‘‘We’re going to suffer if they don’t at least get looked at,’’ Mr Hall said.

‘‘As a region we’ve got to fight for our agriculture and our future.’’

■Submissions can be made to the review until Monday, August 20. For more information, visit: engage.vic.gov.au/delivery-share-review