Australian fruit and vegetable growers are lobbying against potential introduction of application fees for water licences. The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation released a discussion paper earlier this year investigating cost recovery, which horticultural groups say could see growers charged up to $10,000 to apply for, or make changes to, annual water licences.
VegetablesWA, in association with WA Farmers, WA Citrus, Pome West, Wines of WA and WA Potatoes, developed a joint response to this paper, opposing the fees.
Chief executive John Shannon said the fees would have a severe impact on hundreds of small business owners, forcing many to leave the industry: “Many horticulture businesses are only marginally profitable – the average return on capital of the bottom 25 per cent of participating growers was negative 6 per cent. The introduction of charges will have a hugely significant impact on current horticultural businesses, supply chains, the availability of locally produced fruit and vegetables in WA, and further investment in the industry and state. To support WA growers and the horticultural industry, the government needs to abandon these proposed cost recovery charges.”
The department’s executive director of regional delivery Paul Brown said in WA, unlike other states, there had been no fees to assess water licence and permit applications before the introduction of fees for the mining and public water supply sectors this year. “The costs of these assessments were borne by the Western Australian taxpayer,” he said, adding the department spent about $14 million a year to assess applications.
The Department of Water and Environmental Regulation’s Paul Brown said Perth’s annual rainfall average had dropped from 800mm up to 1990 to 670mm from 2000 to 2017. “This means many water allocations are based on higher rainfall than we now have. Groundwater use is now greater than recharge from rainfall, causing groundwater levels to drop.”
Of course, many growers are already using efficient watering methods, such as drip irrigation for strawberries, to ensure they were not overwatering.