The need for reform in the water market has been highlighted in a report released at the end of last week, and the Speak Up Campaign is calling for swift and decisive action on its recommendations.
“We’ve had more than 100 reports on water management in less than a decade, but most sit on a shelf gathering dust. Anything calling for serious reform has been ignored,” Speak Up chair Lachlan Marshall said.
“We cannot allow that to happen with the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) report into the water market,” Mr Marshall said.
He expressed concern that the report was released on a Friday afternoon, hoping this was not a government attempt to avoid proper scrutiny.
“Our trust in governments has been eroded by their inability or refusal to address numerous issues around water management in recent years. We cannot afford recommendations from this report to be ignored, just like so many others.
“The Federal Government needs to take swift and decisive action to reform the water market, giving our nation’s food and fibre producers the access they need to this precious resource, in the interests of every Australian who wants safe and affordable staple foods for their family.”
Mr Marshall said it was obvious from the ACCC report that there are serious problems in the water market that need to be addressed with genuine reform, not another political or band-aid solution.
“We do not want to see a repeat of the government’s failed Inspector-General appointment, where we were promised the world and delivered nothing.
“It is obvious from the report that market manipulation exists, but it is not illegal and with the present system cannot be clearly identified. As the report shows, for too long the water market has been allowed to evolve without the regulation necessary, and this has been to the detriment of food producers.
“We are heading rapidly towards a food crisis in our nation; governments need to acknowledge the damage which has been caused to food production through water reform over the past decade and start the process of returning some balance to water use and management.”
Mr Marshall said while there is merit in a new entity to oversee water markets, for it to be effective there needs to be a major overhaul of market design with government resources and commitment to ensure there is real reform.
He repeated pertinent comments from the recently released ‘Epic Fail’ article published by University of Melbourne researcher and author Scott Hamilton in conjunction with La Trobe University’s Profess Stuart Kells.
“They highlighted that Australian water markets have become a financial investment product which has led to higher water prices overall, and a wider spread between the prices farmers receive when they sell water rights, and the prices they pay when they buy water rights.
“Our water is an essential and scarce resource that must be used for food production and the environment, not for the coffers of wealthy investors and superannuation companies,” Mr Marshall said.
In conclusion, he said the report touched on capacity issues within the system, though this complex problem for the government and water managers has again not been adequately addressed, with the impression that the response to constraints is to create more markets.
“The last thing we need is more markets for speculators to manipulate at the expense of food production,” Mr Marshall said.