Water trade clarity call

Farmer feedback sought on water market transparency

Water
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Irrigators' cautious support for greater water market transparency.

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GREATER TRANSPARENCY: Waaia dairy farmer and irrigator Mark Bryant said he was in favour of full transparency.

GREATER TRANSPARENCY: Waaia dairy farmer and irrigator Mark Bryant said he was in favour of full transparency.

Irrigators say they hope a state government options paper on water market transparency will lead to greater integrity and clarity over the ownership and trading of the resource.

Water Minister Lisa Neville said the irrigation community was being asked to consider how current water markets could be made more transparent.

She's asked for feedback on an options paper released by the government.

"We need to balance greater transparency with an appropriate level of protection for irrigators' commercial privacy - which is why we have come up with a range of proposals for the community to consider," Ms Neville said.

"Delivering a more transparent water market will ensure our precious resources are shared fairly and efficiently, and I hope to see other jurisdictions following Victoria's lead."

Read more: AWBA in discussions with state water registers on transparency

In May, the state government announced it would look at the options and benefits of a completely transparent trading system.

That followed continued high water prices and concern about the level of foreign ownership of Victorian water.

Ms Neville said, while a transparent market would not bring down water prices, it would provide confidence that they were working for irrigators and not being distorted.

The options paper showed better access to clear and easily understood information improved market function.

It also considered what full market transparency means for water markets and commercial privacy.

The proposed options addressed the main concerns raised in targeted community consultation and could be introduced individually or as a combination.

Ms Neville said the options irrigators were being asked to consider were:

  • full market transparency - including names, addresses and trade details
  • publish information only on large water market participants or high-volume traders
  • improve real-time information on price and amount of water available.

Read more: Leading Victorian water broker calls for a central trading exchange

Consistent call

Victorian Farmers Federation water council chairman Richard Anderson said irrigators had been asking about "who owned what" for some time.

But he said there might not be an appetite for full transparency on allocations.

"That's like opening up your own bank account to let people see what you deposit and what you withdraw," Mr Anderson said.

"I can't imagine that one is going to have a lot of legs.

"I know I wouldn't want mine exposed."

But he said he would support live reporting of trades.

"Farmers and others have the perception that maybe brokers are ripping us off, or the big end of town is ripping us off, but perhaps they aren't.

"At the moment, no-one has a clue."

He said something similar to the stock exchange would show who was holding entitlements.

"I think every transaction, every day, live, who is buying it, who it's going from, is full transparency."

Waaia dairy farmer and irrigator Mark Bryant said he was in favour of full transparency.

"If you haven't got full transparency, what's the point of having anything?" Mr Bryant said.

"I'm all for full transparency, 100 per cent.

"If you are a genuine irrigator, what do you have to hide?"

He said the argument that full transparency would show potential buyers which farmers didn't have any water and could then buy properties cheaply didn't add up.

"I can drive around now and see which farms are doing it tough."

But he said the biggest question, likely to be answered by greater transparency, was taking away the perception the market was being manipulated.

"Whether it is, or isn't, none of us actually know."

Integrity vital

Tongala irrigator Peter Hacon agreed there was suspicion about manipulation of the market by some operators.

A fully transparent market might not achieve what it set out to do.

"We can look at company names but you don't know who owns the water," Mr Hacon said.

"The company might be in the name of a spouse so that doesn't give transparency."

But he said any move must focus on integrity.

"Is it transparency, or integrity, in the market?

"It's more about ensuring there aren't any loopholes, which allow for exploitation, or manipulation, of the market.

"What we are looking for in the market place is integrity - and an inability for big operators to manipulate markets."

Upper Goulburn beef producer Jan Beer also welcomed the options paper.

"But what is absolutely critical for irrigators right now is gaining access to more water, and neither federal or state governments have taken any action at all to improve this situation," Ms Beer said.

"We have asked for 1,000 gigalitres of the conveyance water to be made available in a critically dry season to southern basin irrigators.

"We have also asked that the 75GL of irrigators' one-third share of the Connections savings be immediately made available to Victorian irrigators but this all appears to have fallen on deaf ears."

State-wide consultation on the options paper will run until November 8.

Ms Neville said the review complimented the current Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry, exploring options to improve the operations, transparency, regulation, competitiveness and efficiency of Murray Darling Basin water markets.

An expert three-member panel has also been appointed to review the modelling, underpinning higher environmental flow delivery in the southern-connected Basin.

"We know there is concern that higher flows will have negative impacts on their land - that's why we're ensuring any future decisions are informed by science and best practice," Ms Neville said.

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