ACCC report should leave irrigators feeling heard, says Sheed, McKenzie

By Country News

The ACCC report into water trading out of the Murray-Darling Basin will leave irrigators feeling heard, according to State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed.

Released on Thursday, the ACCC interim report identified a number of issues, including: poor regulation and market settings undercut the benefits of water trading; the system has been built for water management but not for efficient water trading; and governance arrangements are creating problems in water markets.

Ms Sheed, who is also the co-chair of the GMID Water Leadership Group, said the long-awaited report validated the concerns of many irrigators.

“Many of us are so tired of all of this — it’s been report after report. But I do see this as a significant piece of work that has really identified and validated the concerns our communities have had so long. Others at times have failed to do that,” she said.

“Forever various advocacy groups have been fobbed off (when expressing concerns about the market) by people not recognising the depth of the issues.

“What we want to see out of this whole process are strong recommendations that might mean a very significant shake-up of the world as we know it.”

A greater emphasis on transparency and real-time data around the water market is needed according to Ms Sheed, who said irrigators and food producers needed to be put before water brokers.

“There are obvious issues that need fixing.

“It feels like we’re getting towards the pointy end and there’s some real appetite out there for some change.”

The interim report has brought vindication for Murray-Darling Basin irrigators, according to Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie, who said the report justified concerns in the community.

“Five-hundred and forty-two pages in black and white makes it clear the current water market in the Murray-Darling Basin is not working for irrigated agriculture,” she said.

“The many concerns highlighted in the report have been raised over many years and are not new to those of us in regional Victoria.”

Some of the issues highlighted include the conflict of interest for unregulated brokers, the manipulation of water prices, corporate entities gaining unfair advantage over family farms and the different regimes in the basin states.

“One of the other issues raised is the detrimental impacts from the expansion of the almond industry on delivery of existing entitlements,” Senator McKenzie said.

She said the lack of action despite community members voicing their concerns had caused frustration.

“The issue we’re going to have is if there's a failure to implement the recommendations handed down,” she said.

“It is now beholden on the federal and state governments to actually commit to implementing the recommendations the ACCC will develop over the coming months.”

The ACCC will be taking submissions until August 28 and will have until November 30 this year to provide the final report to Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

“I’d encourage all stakeholders to really engage with the interim report and make sure the government is in absolutely no doubt of your opinion on the recommendations the ACCC puts forward,” Senator McKenzie said.

The full report is available on the ACCC website.