Following continued advocacy by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and its industry members, the Queensland Labor Government made an election commitment to deliver a 15 per cent cut in irrigation water charges for farmers who buy water from Queensland’s 35 state-owned irrigation schemes, and a 50 per cent for horticulture growers from July 2021. While QFF welcomed the government’s recognition of the importance of water for the agriculture sector, we have serious equity concerns regarding the decision to offer different discounts to different commodities and to omit some irrigators all together based on their water provider.
It is wrong to favour one agricultural commodity (or regional community) over another by selectively providing one commodity with favourable pricing. The mainstream definition of horticulture includes fruit, vegetables, nuts, flowers, turf (grass), and nursery products. Therefore, all of QFF’s members including sugarcane and cotton producers are categorised as horticultural producers.
It is also wrong to provide assistance to customers of government owned irrigation schemes compared to others. Equity is eroded by the decision to apply the discount to bills issued by Sunwater or Seqwater, while not offering the same assistance to customers of the recently established Local Management Authority (LMA) schemes at Theodore, Eton, Emerald and St George, Category 2 Water Boards and co-operative irrigation water providers.
Additionally, providing the two level of discounts in a transparent and robust manner would be extremely difficult and expensive for the government (and its corporations) to administer. Water supply corporations do not keep definitive customer records regarding water usage by crop-type and it is operationally unfeasible to do so, given multiple cropping cycles in a year, crop rotation strategies, and irrigation of multiple commodities from single offtakes.
Therefore, QFF is calling on the Queensland Government to clarify and extend its election commitment of a 50 per cent reduction in irrigation water charges for all irrigators and to all irrigation customers of Sunwater, Seqwater, LMA schemes and other providers. We are also continuing water pricing advocacy on behalf of all Queensland irrigators. While this may have State Budget implications, it would provide a welcome boost to all of Queensland’s irrigated agricultural industries and offset some of the scheduled prices increases.