Neville to review water trading rules

By Geoff Adams

A more transparent irrigation water trading system is being investigated by the Victorian Government, Water Minister Lisa Neville has announced.

The government is also looking at how the 75Gl saved under the Foodbowl Modernisation Project can be distributed to irrigators, with a committee chaired by former Victorian MP, Paul Weller, to investigate and report.

The 75Gl was a share of the expected 225Gl in savings generated by the $2billion foodbowl project, promised more than 10 years ago by the Bracks Government.

Ms Neville said with the completion of the project expected soon, the consultative committee would be set up mid-year to work out the best way to distribute the shares.

She said the project, now known as Connections, was on track to be completed by October next year.

The announcements were criticised by Opposition spokesperson for water Steph Ryan, as being just words with no action.

‘‘After five years, Lisa Neville is still talking about changes to help irrigators in northern Victoria, instead of getting on and making them,’’ Ms Ryan said.

‘‘We’ve been warning the government about the impact of the loss of water from the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District and the risks of demand from irrigators downstream outstripping the capacity of the Murray River to supply water for years.

‘‘Lisa Neville should get on and adopt proposals which have been put forward by the Almond Board of Australia and endorsed by other sectors to place a moratorium on new water licences for greenfield irrigation developments and a unified water register and clearance platform for greater transparency in the water market,’’ Ms Ryan said.

Asked whether she should implement a clamp-down on new licences now, Ms Neville said she wouldn’t be pushed into a decision and would be waiting for the reports, to be delivered by the end of June, before acting.

Both Ms Neville and Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes attended a dairy industry round-table in Tatura on Friday to hear first-hand from the community, local farmers and the water sector, and discuss potential changes to water market rules and transparency.

Ms Neville told the meeting — which included the VFF, UDV, Goulburn-Murray Water water services committee members and Dairy Australia — that she had asked her department to look at the options and benefits of a completely transparent water trading system, to provide confidence the market is working for irrigators and not being distorted.

‘‘Today was a great opportunity to sit down and discuss with local farmers how we can work together to support the dairy and irrigation industries through ongoing dry conditions and high prices,’’ she said.

Ms Neville acknowledged that a more transparent trading system could involve irrigators disclosing information about themselves and this would be one of the issues the investigation would cover.

She said the separation of water from land in water trading was not raised at the meeting.

Only about 13 per cent of water was not tied to land and some of that is being used by irrigators, Ms Neville said.

She repeated her opinion against pausing the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said some farmers were leaving the industry and some were being forced out by bankruptcy and she was pleased to see a commitment for the dairy industry from the government.

‘‘Today’s meeting gave everyone an opportunity to raise all the issues that are in people’s minds,’’ Ms Sheed said.