National Farmers' Federation

COAG must remain true to water reform principles

THE National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is calling tomorrow’s Council of Australian Government (COAG) meeting to task, wanting the Prime Minister and Premiers to commit to principles for assistance to irrigators in the Murray-Darling Basin and prevent any further ad hoc drought responses on a state-by-state basis.
“Any assistance to farmers must not undermine the water market,” NFF Water Taskforce Chair Laurie Arthur said. “COAG must establish assistance principles – consistent across the Basin – that do not create third-party impacts.
“One example would be addressing fixed charges. The failure of rain, again, this season in the catchments means that irrigators in the Basin are now at their lowest ebb. In many areas zero, or little, irrigation water has been available for the past three years, compounding the severe drought conditions on-farm.
“While South Australia – in a well meaning attempt to assist its irrigators – announced their intention to enter the temporary water market to buy water for its irrigators, such a move contravenes COAG’s principle of ‘competitive neutrality’… in effect, giving South Australian irrigators an unfair advantage.
“Rather than pursue any more ad hoc responses, tomorrow’s COAG meeting must restore genuine, consistent measures that assist the Basins irrigation communities in their time of greatest need.
“We consider that an exemption from fixed water charges – which apply to water allocations regardless of their being no water – until the drought breaks in the catchments to be both economically viable and responsible.
“The NFF maintains its support for the water reform agenda in this country, but urges all governments to commit to the integrity of the water reform principles and resist the temptation for any further breakaways through short-term measures that actually undermine the outcome.”

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