ERA rejects water fee proposal

Lauren CelenzaCountryman

In what has been a breakthrough for WA farmers, the Economic Regulation Authority (ERA) has rejected State Government plans to recover $40 million a year in water fees.

The authority released its final report into water management and planning charges last week recommending the Government be allowed to recoup just $14 million from big water users.

The ERA report said while the Department of Water (DoW) had valid claims for $27 million in costs, increases should be deferred until the DoW had calculated its costs better and key measures were put in place.

VegetablesWA executive officer Jim Turley said he felt the ERA had listened to the horticultural industry for the first time in five years.

The latest report comes more than three years after a similar move by the previous Labor government was sunk in State Parliament.

“It is very encouraging for the growers and farm water users of WA,” Mr Turley said.

“We still don’t agree with many items in the report and we hope to negotiate further with the Government.

“The costs outlined in the first draft report were reasonable, but the increases in the second and third drafts were off this planet.”

Mr Turley said the ERA had recognised producers’ concerns by backing off on licence charges, resource management planning and the amount of charges in place.

However, WAFarmers has rejected the recommended fees in the ERA’s final report, saying they are based on unreliable cost estimates.

WAFarmers water resources spokesman Steve Dilley said the organisation expected further consultation with the State Government over the matter.

Mr Dilley said it was unacceptable for licenced water users to be charged, while there was a no-charge approach for the estimated 170,000 domestic bores in Perth.

“WAFarmers has championed the need for greater levels of engagement over water users’ rights and responsibilities, as defined by the National Water Initiative, for several years,” Mr Dilley said.

Manjimup and Pemberton Landowners group spokesman Neil Bartholomaeus said farmers in the region had escaped $1670 a year in charges for dams and bores, because the Government had failed to appoint a water resources council.

He said self-supply water users were concerned that the State Government was ignoring legislation for water resource planning in its pursuit of a “water tax grab”.

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