Market review plan

By Country News

Angry irrigators could receive some answers, with the consumer watchdog to be called in to review the southern basin water market if the Coalition wins the federal election.

Under the proposal, put forward by Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, the operation and transparency of the water market, developing market trends in trading of water, the role of water brokers and investment funds and significant traders of water market allocations and entitlements would all be under the microscope.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would then make recommendations on actions to improve water market transparency and the operation of the southern basin water market.

The announcement had been welcomed by National Irrigators Council chief executive officer Steve Whan but he said irrigators and industry experts must be involved in putting together the terms of reference.

He also called for all parties to support the measure, saying currently a lack of timely information meant it was impossible to know if the market was running well or was potentially vulnerable to domination by an owner.

‘‘Obviously at a time when water is so scarce this becomes particularly worrying for many people. Record prices for allocation water are putting farmers out of business, and in that sort of environment we must expect not just concern, but anger,’’ Mr Whan said.

‘‘The water market has achieved what it was designed to do; that is, water goes to its highest value use. But it would be ridiculous to suggest there are no losers in that process.

‘‘Up until now the best guarantee against water market manipulation has been the fact that if an allocation of water is not used to grow something then it is worthless, and the investor has wasted their money.

‘‘That remains a key point, but we do need to see more action.’’

Mr Littleproud said it was important that government keeps ‘‘an eye’’ on the market.