Water price hikes put regional economies at risk

Water price hikes put regional economies at risk
March 2 2020

Sugarcane growers’ organisation CANEGROWERS is urging the Queensland Government to step in and freeze water prices for farmers pending a review and resolution of significant issues not addressed in a recent report.

“The recommendation from Queensland Competition Authority that irrigators pay significantly higher prices for water between 2020 and 2024 has left cane growers and other farmers reeling,” CEO Dan Galligan said.

“For example, CANEGROWERS members accessing water from the Pioneer River channel scheme in the Mackay region face an increase in their fixed (Part A) charges of 48% over four years. It will be a 51% increase if irrigators are asked to pay for dam safety upgrades!

“In the Bundaberg region, water bills will go up 28.6% and in the Burdekin they’ll climb 17%.

“This level of extra impost, on top of high electricity costs, is beyond the capacity of farmers to absorb.

“What will happen is that they will turn off their pumps and not use the water, meaning crops will underperform and there’s the real risk that some irrigation schemes will fail because farmers can’t afford to use them.

“A price freeze is a practical and sensible step at this point to ensure that issues to secure the economic future of irrigated agriculture and the regional communities and economies that rely on it are properly considered.”

CANEGROWERS has written a five-page letter to the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Dr Anthony Lynham detailing the issues the organisation raised with the QCA during its consultation process.  These issues remain unanswered and were largely ignored by the QCA in its determination to recommend these massive price rises.

“Among these issues is the attempt to unfairly saddle farmers with what could be quite significant dam safety costs,” Mr Galligan said.

“Farmers did not construct dams and are not the only ones to benefit from them – so why should they now be liable for any safety issues?

“QCA did not respond to this issue when it was raised during the consultation process, nor did it address questions CANEGROWERS raised about SunWater passing electricity cost changes, especially when it finds savings, to growers.”

“You can set any price you like for a product but if no one can afford to use it then you’re shooting yourself in the foot – that’s what the State Government risks here,” Mr Galligan said. “High prices could leave irrigation schemes abandoned by farmers who can’t afford the water.

“CANEGROWERS is disappointed that important issues raised by farmers with the QCA have been ignored. It’s time to hit pause on this process and until they are properly assessed.”