Water is the lifeblood of our rural communities, supporting the local environment, people and agricultural industries. The water that supports these communities is supplied by an extensive network of natural and augmented water features, comprising over 6.4 million megalitres of water, held in 43,000 water licences. Queensland irrigators were given a reprieve this week, with the state government announcing they would absorb water price increases and pass on any price increases in 2020-21 recommended by the Queensland Competition Authority. The Government also confirmed it would cover the cost of dam safety upgrades rather than requiring irrigators to contribute.
Following continued advocacy on the increasingly high cost of water, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation and its industry members have welcomed the government’s announcement and thanked them for finally listening to the concerns of farmers. Some irrigation schemes were facing significant cost increases that did not account for irrigators’ ability to pay. In additional, farmers were bracing for the inclusion of dam safety upgrades in the water pricing pathway which would have seen irrigators contributing up to 80 per cent of what would have been very large expenditures. Now, with clarity regarding the long-term viability of some schemes and positive benefits for the productivity and profitability of Queensland farm businesses, farmers can continue producing the high-quality food, fibre and foliage consumers enjoy.
However, QFF is disappointed the announcement has maintained the long-standing inequity that some irrigators continue to pay well above “lower-bound” costs, which is the level of pricing the government has been aiming for. And while the government has heard and acted on the agriculture sector’s concerns, we expect them to continue consulting with industry over the next 12 months as they reassess and decide on prices to apply for 2021-22. Because water pricing and policy reforms need to be considered in the context of broader economic, social and environmental planning mechanisms. A coordinated and consultative approach is essential to effective water planning, policy development and pricing for the future of agriculture.