Greater regulation on the way, says water brokers president

Water brokers welcome reviews into the market

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AWBA positive about changes to come from water market reviews.

Australian Water Brokers Association president, South Australian Ben Williams, has flagged greater regulation of the industry, as a result of the two major inquiries currently being undertaken into the market.

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Both the Australian Competition and Consumer Commision and Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) are carrying out investigations into the water market.

PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED: Ben Williams, of Ruralco Water, was re-elected at the AWBA annual general meeting in Melbourne.

PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED: Ben Williams, of Ruralco Water, was re-elected at the AWBA annual general meeting in Melbourne.

Mr Williams, of Ruralco Water, was re-elected at the AWBA annual general meeting in Melbourne.

He said he felt the coming 12 months of his presidency would be more challenging than his first year.

"We will have the findings of the DELWP transparency paper, and we will have the interim report from the ACCC, and everything that goes along with that," he said.

"Our organisation is welcoming of these reviews and we feel positive there could be some useful change that could come as a result.

"I think anything that can provide greater confidence within the market, and with people dealing with brokers, would be welcomed."

Regulation was inevitable, he said.

"It's important that, during this time where submissions are being put forward, we ensure our voice is being heard and we are active in that conversation, in terms of any potential regulation," he said.

But he said the most concerning factor, in the next year, was the ongoing drought.

"Unfortunately, as water brokers, we don't control the rain," he said.

"I was at the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's peak organisation's briefing, and there were some pretty sobering numbers as to where they saw the main Murray River storages finishing up this year.

"It's a pretty scary prospect, there's no two ways of going around that.

"If we don't see some meaningful rain, we are looking at some dire consequences, for not only individual irrigators but also communities as well."

Mr Williams said AWBA started the year with some clear goals, around forwarding self-regulation, standardised contracts, corporate membership and reviewing meeting conduct.

"The water market transparency paper has largely dominated the second half of the year, as has the ACCC review, as well as responding to various claims, put out by various groups," he said.

He said brokers did not anticipate how things would unfold.

"For some time now, we have seen that some form of regulation, or call for regulation, has been coming," Mr Williams said.

"What we have been trying to do with self-regulation is set the example that could be taken.

"In the lead up to the federal election, things started becoming a lot clearer, and a large part of that is the pain that's out there, in respect of allocation prices and the ongoing drought."

He said brokers saw the ACCC review coming, but the one by the DEWLP took them by surprise, particularly over the language around its terms of reference.

Read more: Strict rules imposed on new water extraction in the lower Murray

"There are environmental issues around the degradation of the lower parts of the Goulburn River, in respect to intervalley transfers.

"That's come about due to the growth in perennial development, below the Barmah Choke, and that's a key concern at all levels of government.

"Our main issue with the DEWLP paper was that we thought it was leading, in its language, and it insinuated unconscionable behaviour, rather than asking for people's opinions.

"It felt as though it was leading in a particular direction."

Mr Williams said the clients of AWBA members returned to them because they were happy with the service they received.

"As president of this organisation I'm very proud of the work our members do in supporting irrigation communities, and individual irrigators, on a day to day basis," he said.

But he said he was also pleased with the way members thought of long term strategies, in developing products to help irrigators manage their risk, between seasons.

"It's difficult to argue there aren't some genuine concern about how markets are performing.

"Part of that is perception, whether its reality, I guess we will find out, as the results of the reviews.

"It's our job, and the job of individual members, to try and turn that perception around as much as we can."

He said while brokers were not going to "win everyone over" particularly in an environment where prices were touching $1000/megalitre.

"It's a very difficult scenario, with a lot of genuine pain, not only for individual irrigators but the communities."

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