Furious irrigators challenge ACCC

FURIOUS Peel Valley irrigators will challenge the country’s peak consumer watchdog over its “absolutely deplorable” decision to support anti-competitive water charges.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced this week it will permit State Water to raise charges by up to 30 per cent over the next three years.

Under the plan, by 2016-17 local customers will pay $55.13 per megalitre of delivered water – a staggering 2300 per cent more than their counterparts in the Murray Valley.

The high price not only affects the irrigation and other water-intensive industries, but Tamworth householders can also expect to pay more in their water rates.

The ACCC this year took over responsibility from the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, raising hopes among irrigators and industry leaders of greater equality.

But despite receiving 36 submissions on its proposal to merely impose an annual cap of 10 per cent rises in the Peel, the watchdog did nothing to address the chronic discrepancy.

“It’s a farce ... they’re supposed to be the regulator, they’re supposed to be setting a fair price,” Peel Valley Water Users Association president Ildu Monticone said.

“We think the ACCC has failed in its responsibility. The ACCC talks about promoting competition and fair trading.

“I would ask how is it fair trading and how is it promoting competition if some valleys pay $2.40 and the Peel is paying $55.13?”

The ACCC maintains that if it had approved State Water’s initial proposal then prices would have risen by 79 per cent, rather than a maximum of 30 per cent.

In its report, released on Thursday, the ACCC said the reason for the inequity was that the costs to service the Peel Valley were shared by a “relatively small number of water entitlements ... compared to other (valleys)”.

“This results in a higher cost per megalitre of entitlement to service the Peel Valley,” the report said.

Tamworth Regional Council director of water enterprises Bruce Logan said it had long been the council’s view that the Peel Valley was charged too much for its water.

He said the price rises would not be felt by ratepayers in the 2014-15 financial year, but they were likely to be passed on by the council down the track.

“We can’t go back to the people and put prices up now, so we’ll just fund the balance from the water reserve,” he said.

“But certainly I would think that would be a consideration for the council when they are setting their charges for 2015-16.”

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