Too many questions and not enough answers in water report

By Geoff Adams

Anyone looking for some definitive answers to complaints about water trading will be disappointed in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's interim report into water markets.

The 540-page report, assembled over almost 12 months, doesn't actually have any final recommendations.

The ACCC has put together a very broad-ranging summary, utilising input from governments, departments, water lobby groups, farmers and water customers.

A glance through the 115 submissions will demonstrate the interest this issue has aroused.

The influence of speculators, the behaviour of water brokers, the crazy price escalations, the confusing array of multi-state regulations and the unintended consequences on the environment of some rules, are all laid out to see.

Surely the points raised in the interim report should have been dealt with in an issues paper.

Wait a minute — there was an issues paper released in October last year.

The latest interim report, a very thorough examination of the range of problems in water trading, looks more like an enhanced issues paper, than an interim report.

Curiously, while the ACCC had 11 months to compile this draft report, irrigators and anyone else interested in the outcomes, get only one month to read 500 pages, digest it and compile a submission in response.

That's two weeks to read it at night and two weeks to prepare a response.

And how can farmers and water organisations give a robust response when they are required to guess at the outcomes?

Readers are faced with statements like this: "The ACCC is considering whether there is conduct that is harming the efficient working of the water market.”

There are too many "ifs", "maybes" and "maybe nots" to get a really good handle on what the commission is trying to say.

We have been handed a very long summary of the complaints about the water market, with few concrete recommendations.

Irrigators will say: "We know what the problems are, give us some solutions.”