Irrigation water prices have been frozen for the next 12 months. Photo: FILE
Irrigation water prices have been frozen for the next 12 months. Photo: FILE

Water price freeze welcomed during ‘complex’ times

IRRIGATION water prices will be frozen for the next 12 months as decreases recommended by the Queensland Competition Authority are passed on.

The move announced this week by the Queensland Government was met with criticism by the opposition for failing to address larger structural issues that affect water pricing in Queensland.

Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said the government's measures were in line with support being delivered to business and industry through the coronavirus crisis.

"We need to keep our farmers in business for our food and fibre and to create jobs, just like other Queensland employers," he said.

Burnett Inland Economic Development Organisation CEO Kristy Frahm said anytime pressures were eased on farmers was going to be welcome even though it doesn't change the overall situation.

"We welcome the short term announcement. It's particularly relevant as the region is still drought declared and Covid-19 has added more complex measures," she said.

Dr Lynham said the government would invest $14.7 million in 2020-21 to keep prices low for irrigators, pass on recommended decreases and subsidise $42 million worth of dam safety upgrades over the next four years rather than ask irrigators to contribute towards them.

The prices are to contribute towards the cost of supplying water to the state's 35 irrigation schemes supplying 6400 farmers from Mareeba in Far North Queensland, west to Cunnamulla and south to Yelarbon.

Dr Lynham said consultation with industry bodies had made clear irrigators' concerns around affordability and the government was responding.

"The government will monitor conditions over the next 12 months before it re-assesses and decides on prices to apply from 2021-22," he said.

But LNP Natural Resources spokesman Dale Last said farmers were already paying too much for water and needed a long-term solution to give them a viable and secure future.

"This announcement fails to address the larger structural issues that affect water pricing in Queensland," he said.

"Water ensures our supermarket shelves are stocked with food and products we need.

"Putting more money in the pockets of farmers at this critical time means they have more money to keep local jobs."

Irrigation water prices are recommended to the government by independent regulator QCA following a review process and generally cover a 4-5 year period, with the government making the final decision on pricing.

Articles contributed by Margaret Maccoll are supported by the Judith Neilson Institute of Journalism and Ideas.