ABC New England North West – 4 December 2013


Subjects: Meeting with Peel Valley Water Users; water pricing


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look I’m going to be interested in meeting with the representatives of the Peel Valley and hearing their case and I have no doubt that Barnaby as local Member will put a strong case on behalf of his constituents. There are a lot of legacy issues related to water prices in that area and water price setting overall, much of it related to decisions New South Wales Government over a long period time but also other significant aspects of water reform. Now I can’t promise that there’s a magic wand I’ll be able to wave to address all of their concerns but I’m certainly going to give them a fair hearing and work through the issues and see whether there is anything that we could possibly or rationally be able to do for them in the future.


CATHERINE CLIFFORD:  Some of the irrigators in this Peel Valley water sharing plan are talking about the exorbitant costs that they pay, at the moment $42 a megalitre for them, they compare it with Hunter Valley water users on $15, Murrumbidgee water users on $4. They say that there’s an absolute inequity there and that it should be a postage stamp charge right across the state of New South Wales. Is that something you would even countenance?


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Postage stamp pricing is not something that I will be countenancing. I want to be very clear that water pricing needs to reflect to an extent the cost of water delivery in different areas. We want to make sure that Australian agriculture functions as profitably, as rationally and as sensibly as possible and that water is used in the right locations to get the maximum productive and economic outcome in those locations. Now this is an important area and I want to make sure that we are doing everything we possibly can to address and listen to and heed the concerns of Peel Valley users, but it’s important that we don’t raise expectations either. And ultimately we have to work through what the cost of running systems is in certain locations actually is, be rational and sensible about that. But as I said, I'm very keen to hear their case, to get to know more about it, it's an issue I haven't had much involvement in previously so I'm very conscious there's some listening, some learning and then some considering to be done before I determine whether there is anything we would possibly consider doing for them in future.


CATHERINE CLIFFORD:  Tamworth regional council is telling us today that currently they use around 4800 megalitres a year; they pay $613,000 for that water, with this application that state water has made for an increase, they could be looking at $1.27 million for the same number of megalitres. Do you think that that sort of an increase is reasonable?


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: These are significant prices for communities to bare for users of water to bare and I am very conscious that there is a threshold beyond which with some things become unsustainable and so that is why we need to listen and look at what could be possibility be done in a sensible way and I’m quite open to having those conversations.


CATHERINE CLIFFORD:  Would you be open to the concept of looking at even an investigation into two agencies, government agencies, a state water and a New South Wales office of water duplicating certain things. Having people doing similar jobs, having fees attached that you could possibly get away with, with one agency, rather than two. Is that something that might be prohibitive in terms of the cost structure for this Peel Valley?


SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look I’m not going to get into the business of telling state governments how to run themselves. Obviously there’s been a process set in place over a number of years where independent regulators, IPART at a New South Wales level, ACCC at a federal level have sought to provide some sensible assessments of how water pricing should be undertaken, but there are you know genuine community concerns to be listened to and heeded here as well and I’ll listen to all suggestions the Peel Valley water users have got. I’m happy to listen to those suggestions and then we’ll see if there is a pathway forward we can take.