Farmers’ lobby calls for water rebate revival

Cally DupeCountryman
Lake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow is among WA farmers battling tough conditions.
Camera IconLake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow is among WA farmers battling tough conditions. Credit: Cally Dupe/Countryman

WAFarmers is calling on State and Federal Government to bring back and overhaul WA’s defunct water rebate scheme, urging them to dollar-for-dollar match large water infrastructure projects — including desalination — to urgently reduce reliance on standpipes and water carting in dry times.

The group is about to launch an artillery push at the two tiers of government in a bid to convince them to bring back the scheme, which was abolished in mid-2018, and include rebates for on-farm desalination projects for the first time.

Under the WAFarmers proposal, a new WA Water Rebate Scheme would be created to allow farmers to apply for a rebate of up to 50 per cent of the total cost of a water infrastructure built on-farm, including dams and tanks.

Desalination would also be included in the rebate scheme for the first time.

It would mean a $100,000 project would cost the farmer $50,000, while the WA Government and the Federal Government would pitch in 25 per cent, or $25,000, each.

At the WAFarmers annual general meeting on Friday, members voted to carry a motion put up by Lake Grace farmer Noel Bairstow to ask the State Government to bankroll its share of the rebates from its $500 million Water Corporation dividend fund, which is paid to the State each year.

The motion called for the “State Government to reallocate some of its $500 million Water Corporation dividend to fund the reinstating the farm water supply/rebate and to include desalination units, expand and maintain town dams and catchments to cater for future extended regional dry periods”.

The State Government has forked out $4 million carting water for households and livestock to several dry locations in WA during the past 12 months, and expects to exceed $11 million by July.

This includes water to 10 areas the State has declared water-deficient. The declaration was made as a last resort after continued dry conditions depleted on-farm and local community water supplies, and means the State Government will cart water to the area as an emergency supply for livestock.

In coming weeks, WAFarmers plans to contact State and Federal ministers to push the water rebate reinstitution cause and ask them to visit water deficient-declared areas in WA’s Great Southern.

WAFarmers president Trevor Whittington said the State Government needed to “address the fact that WA’s country water pipeline system is overloaded” and incentivise farmers to build large-scale, long-term water storage solutions.

This included what he said would be 20-feet deep “mega-dams”, to carry farmers through three to four dry years.

“The State Government has two choices: spend billions upgrading the country water pipeline, or incentivise farmers to build their own large, strategic water supplies,” Mr Whittington said.

“This is about taking pressure off standpipes by farmers to invest in water infrastructure so they can survive three dry years.

“If we have another dry year like 2011, it won’t just be the Great Southern putting pressure on the pipe scheme ... it will be the whole Wheatbelt.

“This overload is threatening the viability of country communities and farms suffering drought.”

Mr Bairstow, who farms at Lake Grace, has spent the past two-and-a-half years carting water on-and-off from the State Government-owned Tommy’s Dam, 24km away. He uses the water to sustain the 1800 cattle on the farm, and is using his own dam water to spray weeds.

A long-standing advocate for the farm water rebate, Mr Bairstow said reinstating the rebates would cost the State Government “far less” in the long run.

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