Information the first step in fixing water market issues

Better information the first step in fixing MDB water market issues

Cotton
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The ACCC says better information surrounding water markets will be essential in creating a solution to current market woes in the MDB.

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BETTER information flow is the first step in creating a more open and transparent water market in the Murray Darling Basin according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

The ACCC is holding a series of meetings in key parts of the southern basin at present to explain the final findings made in its MDB water markets inquiry.

Speaking in Mildura on Monday ACCC deputy chairman Mick Keogh said two of the major findings of the report were that there was a lack of information in the water market and that there were also very few rules governing trading activities.

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"We recommend a new Water Markets Agency be set up to monitor the markets and how they operate," Mr Keogh said.

"There is so much complexity in this space with a lot of variables between state governments, there is no single overarching authority which adds to that complexity," he said.

He said a registry could be created across various jurisdictions where the other information is filed with the relevant authority but the information needed for the water registry was done separately.

"It is simply about setting up a repository of information, at present the water market is opaque and it is difficult to get that information that would be required to help set up regulation of the sector."

"The first step is harmonisation between the states in terms of the information generated, if we can get standardised information it will be a great step towards creating consistency."

Cheryl Rix, chair of Lower Murray Water, questioned Mr Keogh on what he saw as the potential quick wins out of the proposed changes.

He said recording a strike date of deals, rather than the date registered and recording transaction values would create invaluable data and would not be hard to do.

Another meaningful reform that can be implemented quickly would be recording the reason for and the value of transactions.

"There are plenty of valid reasons for zero value transactions, such as environmental water holders moving water downstream, but by categorising the reasons we can come up with a clearer idea of price information for the other trades," Mr Keogh said.

"Around 40 per cent of trades are believed to be zero value so it is important we get a clearer picture of what is trading and why."

Members of the crowd at the meeting questioned Mr Keogh on the likelihood of real-time metering data right across the basin, saying that ag-tech had improved to a level where it was now a feasible option.

Mr Keogh said it was something being looked at.

"The Federal Government has been strong on implementing robust metering and the telemetry that goes with that," he said.

However, he said while it would be a relatively simple proposition in areas with existing metering infrastructure, such as irrigation zones in southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia, things like monitoring flood plain harvesting in the northern basin would be harder.

"It is certainly more complicated when it comes to harvesting overland flows."

The issue of regulating water purchases and stopping a 'fastest finger' trading system where traders jostle to accumulate prize assets such as intervalley tradable water was also raised.

Mr Keogh acknowledged it was a problem, as it is in other trading platforms, such as the ASX, but said there was no quick fix.

"We have canvassed a range of options, such as dynamic intervalley trading limits but we have decided to highlight options in the report rather than make specific recommendations."

ACCC executive director Bruce Mikkelsen stressed the proposed registry would not be a central clearing house.

"Essentially from an irrigator perspective it will be a portal that is used in conjunction with existing systems."

Stephen Ridgeway, ACCC commissioner, said it was important to realise it was a slow process in revitalising the water system.

"We look at something like the ASX, it was only started in 1987, prior to that time companies used to have to register in different states, it is a process of evolution," Mr Ridgeway said.

"We have seen the ASX evolve over time and now it looks like it is time for change in water markets but the first step is to harmonise the state systems and get some consistency."

The story Information the first step in fixing water market issues first appeared on Farm Online.

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