Lower fees for irrigators as new G-MW pricing structure gets the green light

By Alana Christensen

Northern Victorian irrigators have called on Goulburn-Murray Water to continue to reduce fees on the back of an average 10 per cent reduction announced last week.

G-MW announced customers would see the drop in their fees from July 1 as part of a continued restructure of the organisation that would see a $64 million reduction in costs over the next four years, with a continued one per cent reduction for each of the following three financial years.

The changes will have the most impact in the Shepparton irrigation area, which will see the infrastructure access fee fall from $4245 to $2469.36 with a uniform price for all irrigation areas across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District introduced.

G-MW managing director Charmaine Quick said the changes represented a minimum reduction of $400 a year for all customers on their access fee per delivery share.

The new pricing structure, which has been approved by the Essential Services Commission, will see uniform pricing for gravity irrigation customers introduced from July 1, along with a drop in the infrastructure access fee and infrastructure use fee for gravity irrigation customers, and a move to system pricing for all water share owners.

The ESC said efficiencies from infrastructure modernisation and G-MW’s business transformation program had seen operating revenue fall by about 12 per cent to $439.5 million over the next four years, allowing for reduced fees to be passed on to customers.

Ms Quick said the pricing changes would deliver the lower prices local irrigators had been asking for.

“Our latest pricing submission reflects a number of changes to our charges and how we apply our fees, without impacting our service standards . . . Our customers have been clear in what they want. A fairer deal for all is the overwhelming message,” she said.

However, Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities president Dudley Bryant was critical of some changes, saying that the Shepparton region seemed to have reaped the most fee relief from the savings created as a result of the $2 billion Connections plan.

“The $2 billion was spent on other areas, not Shepparton, but the money savings have gone into the Shepparton area,” he said.

“There’s been 1080 km of channel decommission and somehow Shepparton’s price has come from over $4000 delivery share to $2000 now.”

For VFF Water Council chairman Richard Anderson, the savings are a starting point but there's still a long way to go until true fee relief can be delivered.

“This is just the start, not the end,” he said.

Mr Anderson said the infrastructure access fee continued to be the most contentious fee and that he was hoping further cost reductions at G-MW could see further relief.

Under the new pricing structure, service point feeds will be simplified by treating all meters the same way and a single customer charge will be introduced next year.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said the announcement was "good news" and the government would continue to work to improve the affordability and sustainability of G-MW.

A 2018 review of G-MW found the organisation was in need of "transformational change" with declining water delivery due to climate change, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and industry exits meaning the corporation was generating less income, but continued high costs.

At the time the Victorian Government committed to reducing operating and capital costs at G-MW.

The 2018 independent report found millions of dollars in efficiencies needed to be made in capital expenditure and total operating expenditure across the organisation to ensure the sustainability of G-MW.