VICTORIA: by Patrick J. ByrneNews Weekly
Water bill spells disaster for farmers
, November 5, 2005
Victoria's state Environment Minister may soon have the power to alter farmers' water entitlements, reports Pat Byrne.A water bill before the Victorian parliament will diminish farmers' water security, leave farm values uncertain and so make bank assessments for farm-lending more difficult.
The bill will give authority over all Victoria's water resources to the Environment Minister of the day, with no requirement for the minister to consult with farm irrigators.
The bill is "enabling legislation", meaning that regulations to make the legislation workable can be written as the process proceeds, giving the minister a carte blanche
to do as he pleases.
It gives the Environment Minister the power to amend all water entitlements every 15 years, in accordance with his assessment of water needs with climate change. How can such an assessment be made when climate change takes place over 100 years or more?
Effectively, the minister will have the power to alter farmers' water entitlement when, and by how much, he chooses.
Currently, the Government is required by law to deliver water to a water-right-holder through local rural water authorities (RWAs). But this will cease. The bill will give the minister, through the RWAs, the right to decommission sections of irrigation districts.
Compensation will be valued only on the reduced value of a farmer's land. This will be paid not by the State Government, but by the RWA, which in turn will pass the cost on to the remaining farmers in an irrigation area.
Currently, the only restriction on water use is that a farmer must comply with regional salinity management plans, i.e., he is forbidden to over-water his land to the point of creating salt problems.
The new bill introduces a "site use licence" which will give catchment management authorities (CMAs) the ability to determine how much water can be used on what area of land, and what crops/vegetation can be grown.
CMAs are not required to consult with farmers on changes.
A farmer may be forced to change the crops he is growing, or else stand to lose 15 per cent of his water entitlement, thereby diminishing his income. There is no avenue for compensation.
How do councils assess land value for charging rates, if there is uncertainty over land value? How do banks do risk-assessments of a farmer's investment plans for his property if he can have his water entitlement reduced, or even cancelled, at the whim of the minister?