National Farmers' Federation

PM’s water plan poses questions farmers need answered

WITH the Prime Minister and State Premiers set for a showdown over water management rights today, the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has cast its hat in the ring, calling on the Federal Government to break the ‘cone of silence’ around the detail of its $10 billion water plan.
“We’re prepared for the usual ‘argy bargy’ between State Governments, and between State Governments and the Federal Government on this issue today,” NFF President David Crombie said. “But there can be no excuse for failure to deliver sensible, progressive water reform in this country.
“So we have welcomed the intent of the PM’s plan. However, while the drought – the worst on record – has accentuated the need for action, sooner rather than later, it is to the shame of all our governments that party politics, bureaucratic processes and apathy have paralysed any real progress to date.
“The PM’s $10 billion water package makes a splash to address this. If the States come to the party, surrender their powers over water to the Commonwealth, and this streamlines action and delivery of the National Water Initiative, then great! Either way, governments are over-due on their water account and need to get on with it.
“But the PM’s water plan raises serious questions, which we need answered, before farmers can take the plunge into any new water regime. The PM’s plan makes a lot of the right noises, but the details are still very unclear.”
The NFF has numerous reservations and questions regarding the PM’s water plan, including:
* What does the plan mean for the property rights assigned under the current arrangements – supposedly guaranteed to 2014?
* On the definition of ‘over-allocation’ – NFF demands clarification of the assessment process. For example, the baseline assessment by the National Water Commission is that only 3% of surface water management areas, and 5% of groundwater management areas, are over-allocated.
* The National Water Commission has already highlighted the discrepancies between State Government definitions of ‘over-allocation’, and, therefore, the level of ‘over-allocation’, and that of the Federal Government’s estimates, as a major issue.
* Where have the estimates of water savings through ‘efficiency gains’ (approximately 2,500 gigalitres), come from? NFF is aware the Government’s report talks of current delivery efficiencies averaging 75%, with a view of attaining 90% efficiency.
* However, industry figures suggest that delivery efficiency could already be as high as 87% for some corporations. If accurate, this will seriously limit the level of water savings the Government estimates it can make. So where does this leave us?
* What does the Government mean by ‘sustainability’ for irrigators and how is the Government proposing to measure it?
* What does the Government mean when referring to ‘non-viable’ and ‘inefficient irrigators’? How will this be assessed?
* It also appears that the Government is proposing to reset water sharing plans and the Murray Darling Basin Cap. This means the certainty around State water sharing plans is now in disarray and we need clarification of the ongoing nature of irrigator’s ongoing property rights, as a priority.
* The NFF is prepared to look at a water buy-back framework to address over-allocation. But we have questions surrounding third-party impacts, particularly in light of Government views on the removal of exit fees and, more broadly, the details of such a framework.
* We need more information on the proposed integrated water allocation system. It appears the Government wants to manage annual allocation against water licenses. Does this mean the Australian Government will be doing the annual allocations?
* If so, what does this mean for State Government jurisdictions?
“The last thing farmers need is uncertainty over water rights and water allocations,” Mr Crombie said. “But that’s exactly what we have at this point in time.
“This undermines delivery of the key tenets of the National Water Initiative – efficient markets, best practice pricing, world-class infrastructure and planning that gives farmers certainty and security in water entitlements.
“The $10 billion water plan is the PM’s baby, but we don’t want the National Water Initiative thrown out with the bath water. We expect to have these, and other questions, answered… sooner – rather than later, and industry must be centrally involved.
“The NFF cannot make any sensible assessment of the PM’s proposal before these blanks – and there are many of them – are filled in.”

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