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17/04/2009

Whetstone weighs in

Monique Paschke, The Murray Pioneer, Wednesday April 15.

The entry of an American company into Australia's water market is proof the Federal Government must offer irrigators higher prices when buying-back water entitlements.

That was the opinion of Liberal candidate for Chaffey and South Australian Murray Irrigators chairman Tim Whetstone when asked about the development last week.

Whetstone said foreign ownership of water entitlements was a concern, but it could also benefit local irrigators. "It is a concern for South Australia that we don't see water go back to the environment that has been bought," Mr Whetstone said. "But by the same token it is a business venture that will be perhaps to the benefit of irrigators because that water's been bought as a business to lease back to irrigators. "What I'd like to do is to give a clear picture to the Federal Government that they need to up the price to actually get water for the buy-back program. "It is a concern that we've got foreign investment in there buying water when we've got the government clearly in the marketplace, but they're clearly not achieving anything. There is no outcome."

The comments come after news US backed company Summit Global Management has entered the Australian water market.

Its Adelaide branch, Summit Water Holdings, is buying irrigators' water entitlements, which it will then sell back to growers at a profit.

Whetstone said the new player in the market meant the Federal Government would need to act on its buy-back scheme, rather than "wishing for rain". "It just keeps on showing the government still doesn't have the will to make any real change at the moment," he said. "It's almost like they're just waiting for it to rain still."

Whetstone said the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) latest drought update, revealing the lowest Murray inflows in 117 years, highlighted the dire situation many Riverland irrigators continue to face.

"We saw the MDBA announce there may only be enough water for critical water needs — that's not a good outlook for irrigators," he said. "We need a meaningful outcome from the government when they're out there purchasing water, because at the moment in South Australia we're on our knees."

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