Farmers seek further water relief

By Geoff Adams

Goulburn-Murray Water has been urged to continue its cost cutting to drive prices down further and introduce more pricing reforms, following last week's announcement of a drop in future charges.

The water corporation has cut about $19 million from its operational budget and is promising reduced water prices in what it puts in a submission to the Essential Services Commission.

Key farmer body, the VFF, is urging G-MW to continue its efficiency drive and also address some issues not canvassed in its pricing draft.

Medium-sized farm operations could save hundreds or thousands of dollars under the pricing proposals.

“It's a good start,” VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said last week after the announcement.

The VFF has been arguing that with infrastructure modernisation, the corporation should be passing on cost savings to customers.

“We are hoping this is just the start,'' Mr Anderson said.

“We don't want to stop here, and then discover in 10 years that they've added another $39 million to the budget. We don't want to go backwards.

“Years ago G-MW was talking about trying to keep costs under CPI. Well, that wasn't good enough.

“We need a succession of big cuts to bring the base costs back down.”

Mr Anderson wants to see reduced drainage charges included in the review, because they are not mentioned anywhere in the most recent document being circulated to customers.

“Years ago, we did some work on reform and that topic has just disappeared.”

He also want G-MW to tackle the sensitive area of the environment authorities paying an equal share of costs.

He challenged G-MW to be fearless in pursuing correct apportionment of costs to other government instrumentalities, so that the costs are shared fairly.

While some irrigators have complained about the level of the infrastructure access fees, which differ across the separate districts, G-MW is proposing to make the fee uniform to each district.

Mr Anderson is not convinced this is the best way to bring down costs and believes competition between districts might be a better way of achieving efficiencies.

He welcomed the move towards simplifying accounts and suggested G-MW should move towards electronic billing.

G-MW confirmed bills were currently paper but they would be submitting a proposal to move towards an opt-in process by which customers could choose to receive an electronic bill.

Feedback on the draft pricing submission is open until November 4.