Water price surges in the pipeline for Wide Bay farmers

by Ted Sorensen
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Queensland farmers in Wide Bay are staring down the barrel of substantial water price increases, under the Palaszczuk Labor Government’s move towards ‘cost-reflective’ pricing for water.

The review currently underway by the Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) has highlighted that the Lower Mary, Bundaberg, and Upper Burnett irrigation schemes, are facing significant and unsustainable price increases.

LNP Shadow Minister for Natural Resources Dale Last has pointed directly to the submission from peak industry representative group Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF).

“The QFF used state owned Sunwater’s own ‘cost-reflective’ numbers to identify significant price increases for farmers already struggling under the burden of high water and electricity prices*,” Mr Last said.

“Under the ‘cost reflective’ prices Lower Mary will see a $44.81 per M/L increase, Bundaberg will experience $34.69 per M/L and Upper Burnett – $23.27 per M/L.

“The projected price increases we are seeing are unacceptable and should be of major concern to farmers and the Wide Bay communities.

“If the Labor Government wants to move to ‘cost-reflective’ pricing for water, then it has a lot more work to do to ensure SunWater is providing value for money to its rural customers.

“It’s clear Queensland farmers are currently getting a bad deal with SunWater.”

LNP MP for Burnett Stephen Bennett said the proposed ‘cost-reflective’ pricing in these schemes had the potential to wipe out irrigation in the region.

“We all know water is the lifeblood of our agriculture industries,” Mr. Bennett said.

“The projected price increases for our local irrigation schemes are simply unacceptable and must not be passed on.

“The message we are hearing from local farmers is that the cost of water and electricity are already too high and needs to be reduced.

“It is farcical that Labor would consider raising the cost of already unaffordable water.

“Without water, communities like Bundaberg, Childers and Maryborough will all lose production, which leads to fewer jobs and more expensive food and fibre for all Queenslanders.

LNP Gympie MP Tony Perrett and Shadow Minister for Agriculture joined the Wide Bay regional MPs in calling for a hold on water price increases.

“Even though price increases are capped at $2.38/ML per year plus inflation, this will mean the Lower Mary irrigation customers are staring down the barrel of at least 15 years of consecutive water price increases.

“Water price increases have a whole of community flow on affect, which the Wide Bay could least afford.

Mr Perrett also called on local Maryborough MP Bruce Saunders to stand up for his region’s farmers.

“It appears as through Bruce Saunders is too busy being a self-professed ‘union thug’ to care about an issue as important as out of control water price increases.

“It’s time for Labor to step in and guarantee the future of irrigated agriculture in the Wide Bay.”

QFF was able to identify the following SunWater cost blowouts:

*   112 per cent increase in Non-Routine expenditure across all schemes from the QCA target for 2013 – 2018 totalling $69,160,000 compared to the actual $146,566,000.
*   59 per cent increase in non-direct costs for irrigation customers from an actual $11.1 million in 2017 to a forecast $17.6 million in 2019 representing a $6.5 million increase in two years.
*   $7.6 million increase over two years from 2017 in irrigation operational expenditure.

*Source: https://www.qff.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/20190308-QFF-submission-to-QCA-re-rural-irrigation-pricing-review-2020-24-SunWater-WEB.pdf

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