ACCC report on water market coming

By Anna McGuinness

Murray-Darling Basin stakeholders are being left in the dark on findings from the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission's water markets inquiry.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg received the ACCC’s interim report on the Murray-Darling Basin water markets inquiry on June 30, but the community is still waiting for the report to be released a month later.

During a visit to Echuca on Wednesday, July 29, Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie wouldn’t say when that would happen.

“It’s been sitting with the treasurer for a good while, there’s been a few noises out of government that it’s not far away,” she said.

The government directed the ACCC to conduct the inquiry in August 2019 after concerns were raised over transparency and whether the market was still equitable.

The interim report was due to be delivered to the government on May 31, 2020 but was extended a month later to June 30.

Irrigators have raised complaints that the ownership and trading of water is not transparent, and that speculators are driving up the price of water.

Complaints have also been made about the behaviour of water brokers.

Senator McKenzie said she wanted to see the government acting on recommendations and rolling out changes quickly.

“For too long our regional communities and industries have had justifiable concerns about the water trading and system regulation,” she said.

“NSW Senator Perin Davey, Member for Mallee Ann Webster and myself are calling for more transparency, making sure the report deals with ensuring the regulation around water trading is fit for purpose.

“We need to know who’s owning the water, how much, how it’s being used — so that people can actually make decisions around buying and selling of water.”

Senator McKenzie wouldn’t reveal why the report is yet to be seen publicly.

“That’s a question for the treasurer, we all know the water market is highly technical, but this report has been a long time coming,” she said.

“It is only an interim report, bearing in mind the final report will be based on the feedback that communities such as ours give the government.

“I’d encourage all stakeholders, whether they be irrigators, small business owners or part of the broader community to really engage with the interim report and make sure the government is in absolutely no doubt of your opinion of the recommendations the ACCC puts forward.”

The ACCC will be taking submissions in response to the report once it is released and will have until November 30 this year to provide the final report to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Senator McKenzie said she had heard concerns from stakeholders around inter-valley trading, foreign ownership and broker regulation.

“There’s concerns about making sure we have appropriate regulation on brokers, it’s a bit like our stock agents working for both sellers and buyers, making sure that’s transparent and the inherent conflict of interest is dealt with appropriately so people can have confidence.”

Senator McKenzie said after years of talk, it was time to see concrete actions in place.

“We’ve got the water minister Keith Pitt who will be working with the treasurer on how these recommendations play out, so we’ll be encouraging him to get the right answers for our communities and industries.

“Those of us living along the Murray have seen in recent days and weeks when decisions are made in Macquarie St or Spring St, they can have really devastating impacts on how we live here,” she said.

“Nationals want to see vibrant regional communities and we’re prepared to stand up and encourage our communities to get in there and have a say.”