NSW Water Minister Kevin Humphries has slammed local irrigators for their “rabid protestations” over the issue of water pricing in the Peel Valley.
The Barwon MP has launched a vigorous defence of a new water trading trial between the Peel and Namoi valleys that he says will drive down prices.
The one-year trial – with an option to be extended for a further two years – allows Peel Valley farmers to trade their general security allocations to users in the Namoi Valley.
The Peel Valley Water Users Association (PVWUA) expressed scepticism over the scheme’s claimed benefits, with Tamworth irrigator Laurie Pengelly describing it as “outright lies”.
Mr Humphries took umbrage at the criticism and said the market-based solution would “enable a decrease in prices over time” and give irrigators an alternative source of income.
“The only conceivable way the trial will fail to deliver lower prices is if it is actively resisted by licence holders in the Peel,” he said.
“Should the Peel Valley Water Users Association wish to perpetuate the problem and not be part of a solution, they will ultimately have themselves to blame.”
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s final price determination last month, by 2016-17 Peel Valley irrigators will pay about 23 times more for each megalitre of delivered water than their counterparts in the Murray Valley.
Mr Pengelly and PVWUA president Ildu Monticone travelled to Sydney for a pre-arranged meeting with Mr Humphries on Wednesday to discuss the policy, but the minister was a no-show.
Instead, they emerged from a tense hour-long meeting with two staffers claiming to be none the wiser from the experience.
“After the meeting, we are no better informed on the effect of temporary trading on the water usage prices in the Peel Valley than we were prior to the meeting,” Mr Monticone said.
“If it is true that temporary trading will actually reduce the water charges in the Peel Valley, then no-one has provided the evidence to demonstrate the real impact on prices to us. We have now requested that the ACCC provide us with the relevant calculations ... because we have been unable to obtain any figures from the minister’s office.”
However, Mr Pengelly said the trip to Sydney was not a complete bust as it was made abundantly clear uniform water prices – so-called “postage stamp” pricing – would never happen under a Coalition government.
“In a sense it was a complete waste of time, except that we now know exactly where we stand – they are not going to make any attempt to have postage stamp pricing,” he said.
“And they are not going to make any attempt to put a bill before parliament to give reasonable pricing for the Peel and the North Coast and South Coast valleys.”