Call for water licence freeze

By Country News

The Murray-Darling Association has welcomed calls from the Almond Board of Australia to place a moratorium on new water licences, saying stronger regulation and registration in Murray-Darling Basin water markets is needed.

Late last month the ABA called for no new licences to be issued pending a review of delivery constraints.

‘‘Water is a limited resource and the capacity to move it throughout the river system to where it’s needed by irrigators and the environment is restricted,’’ ABA chief executive officer Ross Skinner said.

‘‘The security of supply for irrigation and the environment is becoming more and more precarious due to unlimited developments further downstream from where water was historically used for agricultural production.’’

MDA national president David Thurley said the association supported the ABA’s water policy position in principle and supported the implementation of a healthy basin plan.

The ABA’s policy includes calling for an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry into water market trading rules, including but not limited to the existence of, or potential for, non-competitive conduct by non-water-using investors, and a unified water register and clearance platform combining all the state-based registers to provide transparent and ‘real-time’ market information and the application of consistent rules across the southern connected Murray-Darling Basin, combined with an appropriate and enforceable compliance regime.

The registration and regulation of water brokers, consistent with standards in other sectors such as real estate and stockbroking, and a resolution of outstanding Murray-Darling Basin Plan implementation issues identified by the Productivity Commission such as constraints, before any further water recovery from the consumptive pool were also identified as key issues by the ABA.

‘‘Water use licences are being issued and paid for, yet this is leading to a situation where water may not be delivered with the required surety,’’ Mr Skinner said.

‘‘Each state and region wants development in their area, but the capacity to move water along the rivers is limited and unlimited expansion could jeopardise surety of supply to existing growers.

‘‘But, despite strong markets for our products, we are concerned that unlimited expansion will threaten supply surety for all southern basin irrigators and continue to drive up prices for permanent entitlement and allocation water on the market.’’