Water ministers discuss foreign ownership and monopoly behaviour at MinCo

By Rodney Woods

Murray-Darling Basin state water ministers have acknowledged concerns around foreign ownership and monopoly behaviour in water markets.

They will also ask the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to look at whether changes to trading rules are required and to consider registration of brokers across state borders.

There was also agreement around the table, at the Ministerial Council meeting on December 17, that there are serious issues with constraints measures projects and a plan will now be developed to provide a more realistic time frame, appropriate milestones and greater buy-in from local communities.

It was also decided that Victoria, NSW and South Australia will work together to collectively address the very real risk of deliverability shortfalls in the basin in the lower Murray — starting with looking at water extraction policies.

The three states will implement immediate precautionary measures to limit further extractions from the Murray River — protecting the rights of existing entitlement holders and reducing pressure on an already stressed system.

“From Victoria's perspective, we feel we've had some good wins here today,” Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville said.

“Finally there has been an acknowledgement from the MDBA and from the ministerial council that we have real deliverability issues in the southern basin,” she said.

“These are really important changes, if we get them, (they) can give surety and confidence to people in our water market.”

NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and Water Minister Melinda Pavey made it clear their state would not deliver the water resource plans and would not contribute to the additional 450 Gl in water recovery targets — but they have not pulled out of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan just yet.

Concerns continued to be raised about proposed changes to long-standing water sharing rules — with most basin states united in their refusal to support the Commonwealth’s push for a review into water sharing arrangements by the Inspector-General.

However, all states supported the establishment of the office of the Murray-Darling Basin Inspector-General to investigate compliance, but ministers were clear they would not be handing state powers over to the Commonwealth.

South Australia and Victoria have confirmed they're not going to co-operate in the water sharing, with South Australia saying it was not an issue.

“Well, if there's no issue, then I'm confident that Mick Keelty will find that,” Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said.

“If they're so confident, let the sun shine in, have a look at it and you'll get confirmation from an independent, eminent Australian and his agency.

“The reality is he will also be looking at the compliance, as the states should be.

“But this is a role to make sure there is trust between states. And I take them on their word.

“So, let's have a good hard look at it.

“If you've got nothing to hide, let's dance.”