“The lack of transparency in this market is failing farmers, communities and the nation,” Ms Butler said.
“Australians support our farmers and regional communities and they don’t want to see a dog-eat-dog free market, where profiteering from our precious water resources is rampant, while people suffer from a devastating drought.”
The SunRice report said state governments are issuing allocations later in the season, sometimes too late, and irrigation delivery to new farms further away from the dams upstream has seen more water swallowed by “transmission losses”.
Amid the confusion, and during severe drought, it appears farmers have become more cautious and are underutilising their water rights, the report said.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said he wanted to understand if any changes were needed to aid the situation, but it was up to individuals to decide how they use their water.
“Right now every drop of water counts so it’s puzzling to see it left unused. We need to get under the bonnet of this to find why it’s going on,” Mr Littleproud said.
“I will ask the states to work with me to find out why water was being left idle.”
Angry farmers will travel on Monday from the Riverina to Canberra in a convoy of potentially thousands to rally at Parliament House. They’re calling for the Murray Darling Basin Plan to be scrapped, and for a Royal Commission into water management. ‘
Mr Littleproud has rejected calls for a Royal Commission, but has instructed the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to review the water market.
Peak lobby groups the National Farmers Federation and the National Irrigators Council also don’t support a Royal Commission, and argue the Basin Plan must be implemented to ensure irrigators’ social licence to operate.
Ms Butler has not ruled out supporting a Royal Commission, but she has warned it could be used to delay reform during this term of government.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.