Dairy farmer supports fairer deal for all

Monday 6 January, 2020

Katandra West dairy farmer Paul Harry

Katandra West dairy farmer Paul Harry has a thirst for knowledge. He knows facts and research are key to success in every aspect of his farm business.

That’s why the 47-year-old chose to take part in Goulburn-Murray Water’s (GMW) three-day Price Submission Customer Forum to learn how prices are set for use of the irrigation delivery system that his business relies on.

The Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District’s (GMID) delivery network is vital for growing pasture for his 250-strong herd. But, until recently, Mr Harry was unclear how prices were determined.

“Everyone has their opinions on water but I really wanted to properly educate myself and understand regulations and legislation that informs pricing structure,” Mr Harry said.

Run by an independent facilitator, he said taking part in the summit in Echuca gave him the know-how he needed describing the event as informative and inclusive.

The summit was part of a deep engagement process, reaching about 10 per cent of Goulburn-Murray Water’s customers during a two-year period. The consultation informed GMW’s Pricing Submission lodged recently with the Essential Services Committee (ESC).

After the summit, Mr Harry echoed most GMW customers’ call for fairer prices to ensure the region is sustainable for decades to come. He cited water related matters as the greatest challenge he faces on his irrigated 200 ha property.

A 10 per cent drop in fees, as recommended by the submission could mean around $5,000 Mr Harry could reinvest back into his business each year.

“Adjusting to less water being available is absolutely the greatest challenge. This year’s dry conditions are disguised because we have received good milk prices so we can afford to buy in hay, grain and silage to cover for the summer,” Mr Harry said.

“But buying grain and hay becomes unsustainable.

“If access to water is more affordable and equitable, it would significantly benefit the farm. I want to see a fairer break down of the infrastructure costing to better reflect who benefits from the system.

“Those who are off farm and speculators don’t pay as much for infrastructure. That needs to be equal. A more even breakdown across the irrigation areas is also needed.”

Mr Harry believes GMW’s Pricing Submission is creating equitable pricing across the GMID and says the proposal for uniform delivery charges will cement this.

GMW Managing Director Charmaine Quick said the pricing submission was a cornerstone of the Transformation Action Plan driving change within the organisation.

“For the past four years we have worked hard to reduce costs in our business and it’s paid off,” Ms Quick said.

“Our Pricing Submission proposes a revenue requirement of $443.0 million over four years, a drop of about 12 per cent from the previous water plan in which we needed $504.7 million.

“The efficiencies our business transformation is generating means we need to collect less money from our customers. This translates to a price decrease of about 10 per cent for most customers.”

Ms Quick said GMW was making tariffs easier and ensuring customers who receive the same service pay the same price.

“This is our response to our customers call for a fairer deal,” she said.

“We’ve heard our customers tell us that everyone should pay the same storage fees and we shouldn’t differentiate between an irrigator, an investor or the environment. That’s why we are proposing to remove the water user or non-water user differentiation.

GMW’s pricing submission 2020-24 was lodged recently with the ESC. The ESC will deliver a draft decision on the submission in March 2020. A final price determination will be made in June 2020, for implementation from 1 July, 2020. This will set fees and charges for the next four years from 2020-2024.

Until January 24, 2020, visit the ESC website to download and comment on the pricing submission.