Drowning in water politics

Drowning in water politics


Opinion
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DEBATE over which portfolio the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder is not much more than political posturing.

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WHETHER the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder is in the Agriculture Minister's or the the Environment Minister's portfolio is not much more than political posturing.

This is because the powers of the Commonwealth Environment Water Holder are bound by the Water Act.

How the Act is implemented, including its strong environment focus, is seeing the current buybacks (despite the cap) pushing up water prices to a point where it's more profitable for those with water entitlements to speculate than grow food.

If meaningful change is to be brought about it will have to happen through legislation in a way that returns balance to social and economic factors.

Senator Bill Heffernan touched on this important point, that those playing water politics should not lead farmers into a false sense that by moving who has control of the Water Holder they could somehow provide increased water security.

With water (in some valleys) reaching almost $300 a megalitre of late, farmers' planted area has been reduced, or they're no longer growing a crop at all.

This means less crop, less fertiliser, less seed, less harvesters required and less grain or stock to trade, sucking cash out of the community.

Without the community, the environment will also suffer.

Another issue is landholders who bought properties with delivery entitlements but not water entitlements.

These operators have to meet the fixed delivery charges, but as water prices sky rocket it becomes increasingly hard for them to generate a return.

The Water Holder is run with the taxpayer dollars, but it's propping up a system that's costing tax payers.

The Water Holder needs more flexibility around how it trades excess water (as Agriculture and Water Minister Barnaby Joyce has suggested), and it needs to stand on its own feet.

More felxibility could also generate cash flow that could go back to improved infrastructure - an important aspect given the Water Holder also has delivery costs.

The exodus of growers is making it less cost effective for those who remain to grow food.

With the staus quo the current high prices will only get higher, especially as the drought spreads its grip.

We are set to see a higher proportion of water tied up in storage or flowing past what were once productive paddocks because the cost is already putting it beyond the reach of farmers.

The legislation has to change.

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