WORRIED: Coominya turf grower Greg Banff stands in the near-empty Atkinson Dam. Mr Banff warned the new pric path for irrigators would be “devastating”. PHOTO: Dominic Elsome
WORRIED: Coominya turf grower Greg Banff stands in the near-empty Atkinson Dam. Mr Banff warned the new pric path for irrigators would be “devastating”. PHOTO: Dominic Elsome

‘Devastating’: Farms to pay for non-existent water

THE anger was palpable in the SEQ Water offices at Atkinson Dam.

It was close to standing room only, as the Queensland Competition Authority presented local irrigators with a report into the next five-year price path for the Lower and Central Lockyer irrigation schemes.

The news they delivered wasn't well received.

The QCA has recommended to state government that Lower Lockyer irrigators continue to pay 80 per cent Part A fixed and 20 per cent Part B volumetric charges.

It's a scheme irrigators have long rallied against, as for the past three years, they have had to pay this fixed fee despite the scheme not delivering any irrigation water.

In a damning move for Central Lockyer irrigators the QCA has further recommended they are included in the Part A fixed charges structure.

That would see Central irrigators brought onto the fixed rate scheme to access water, which is applied to their entitlements regardless of how much they actually use, on top of charges per megalitre of water.

Several irrigators left the meeting early, one commented it was "a waste of my time" as he exited.

Other spent nearly an hour questioning the methods the QCA used to determine its recommendations.

Representatives from the Authority weren't oblivious to the dissatisfaction in the room, explaining they had limited scope in which to recommend the pricing structure.

In a fact sheet produced as part of the report, the QCA noted "the government's pricing principles in the referral also limits our ability to rebalance tariff structures".

Cooyminya turf grower Greg Banff and member for Lockyer Jim McDonald at Atkinson Dam
Cooyminya turf grower Greg Banff and member for Lockyer Jim McDonald at Atkinson Dam

State member for Lockyer Jim McDonald was among the attendees, and placed blame for the proposed prices squarely with the government which had ordered the report by the QCA.

He claimed the terms by which QCA were required to assess the price path proposals were too narrow.

"It's been very clear for a long time that QCA have been charged by the current Labor government to come up with pricing that will cover SEQ water's costs, and in line with government policy," Mr McDonald said.

"The government have made it so restrictive on what they can do.

"Instead of being a fair process that recognises the hardship and cost that the farmers are going through - they've just said 'set a price that will deliver us the income we need to cover the wages of our SEQ Water organisation'."

Coominya turf grower Greg Banff of Golden Finch Lawns attended. The irrigator has cut back his operations by half due to the ongoing drought, and was concerned farmers simply wouldn't be able to afford the charges.

"It doesn't reflect what the reality is on the ground - it's a very unreliable system we've got," Mr Banff said.

The major concern for irrigators was paying for water they didn't receive.

"There's no water - we don't mind paying if there's water," he said.

"We'd like (the price path) to reflect the amount of water being delivered."

Mr McDonald agreed.

"Like every farmer says 'if you give us water we're happy to pay'," he said.

Mr Banff warned the cost of the price path could be the nail in the coffin for many growers already struggling with drought.

"I think within six months no one is going to be able to pay for it anyway. It's going to be devastating," he said.

"There's people walking off farms right now in Coominya, within six months it's going to get very serious."

Mr McDonald and growers have repeatedly called on the government to freeze charges while growers were not receiving water, and Mr McDonald again reiterated this call.

"We'll continue to fight - we've got to. Hopefully they will grow a conscience and give us the relief," he said.

Greg Banff agreed the government needed to step up.

"It's well past time," he said.

The Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Dr Anthony Lynham was contacted for comment.



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