First ACCC inquiry hearing in Mildura, Australia

Victoria water market investors described as 'parasites'

Fruit growers in Victoria's north-west have told the national consumer watchdog that the Murray-Darling Basin water market has become so complex that understanding its intricacies has become a full-time job.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) held the first of 10 public forums in Mildura on Thursday, as it began an inquiry aimed at improving the transparency, competitiveness, and regulation of tradeable water rights.

It was an often heated meeting, with the irrigator-dominated crowd unhappy with what was described as a lack of transparency and a perception that investors with deep pockets were manipulating the market to artificially increase the cost of temporary water.

Concerns about the water market have come to a head this season, as the temporary water price rose above $900/megalitre. With Victorian Murray irrigators sitting on allocations of 42 per cent, farmers have been forced to pay high prices to ensure their plantings have the water needed to stay alive.

"So far this season, we've spent $180,000 and we're not finished yet,  and I'm only a medium-sized grower," said a table grape grower.

The statement was made that investors, who were not primary producers, gained the ultimate freedom to buy and trade temporary water as a commodity, placing family farmers and even larger businesses at a major disadvantage. Rob McGavin, the CEO of olive producer Boundary Bend Estate, told the forum those investors could afford to withhold water knowing that horticulturists had no choice but to buy.

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