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Water for production, not hoarding: governments must act

drought plant cracks stock image

The States and Commonwealth must act immediately to free up water being purchased by water traders at the expense of irrigators growing food and fibre.

Industry groups say interim measures must be introduced to free up water or risk a mass exodus from the land and greater hardship for drought-stricken communities, towns and small businesses.

“Water needs to be made available to those who use it. When water becomes a commodity for speculation, putting rural and regional Australia at risk, I think it should be obvious to all that Australia has a problem,” warned John Argiro, Chairman of Australian Table Grape Association.

“We are not asking to limit water trade – quite the opposite. We want governments to intervene to allow water already allocated to be put to consumptive use.”

“Australia’s drought-stricken communities are in peril and we need to government to act now” said Tony Battaglene, CEO of Australian Grape and Wine.

“We can’t wait for more government inquiries. Time is critical and interim measures to stop non-irrigators slowly starving irrigators of much needed water while keeping prices high are needed urgently.”

When a single company buys around nine per cent of the total water allocation traded in the southern Murray-Darling Basin in 2018-19, we have a problem.

“Carryover” rules allow speculators to hold over allocation purchased in one season into successive seasons. Carryover was originally designed to help irrigators manage risk. It was never intended to allow investors to withhold water from the market across seasons for profit.

“Many irrigators with permanent trees or vines, dairy cows or customer supply contracts have limited choices when it comes to water. They try and purchase the water, or they face the choice of losing their business and assets. There is no middle ground for them.

“Speculation on water during a drought, a vital part of irrigated crop production may be legal but it enforces hardship on other entities and may have long term consequences for some sectors and flow on impacts to regional communities.

Source: Australian Grape and Wine, Australian Almond board; Citrus Australia, Australian Olive Association, Australian Table Grape Association, Pistachio Growers Association, Australian Walnut Industry Association, Summerfruit Australia, Hazelnuts Growers of Australia and Chestnuts Australia.

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