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Dark clouds for farmers

CHANGES to WA’s water management laws could force farmers to pay to use water they have dammed on their own properties.

Changes to the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act have gone through the Lower House of the WA Parliament. In March it is expected the changes will be passed by the Upper House.

The proposed law covers water used from water courses defined as “anywhere water collects, or puddles”.

The WA Government stands to gain the $200 million on offer from the Federal Government for bringing State laws into line with national ones.

The national approach to water laws has come about due to problems plaguing the Murray-Darling river system.

WA Water Users Coalition member Chris Scott said WA’s water management laws already met what was being proposed at a national level.

However, under the new laws before WA Parliament, a water use licence fee could be levied based on the amount of water a farmer uses.

Mr Scott said the pay-per-use provisions in the legislation could be a huge revenue earner for the government.

“The government has said it is not going to charge per use but the legislation allows it to,” he said.

Mechanisms are already in place to check water use.

Whenever a farmer sets up a bore, there is a requirement that a water meter be attached to it.

The new law also opens up concerns over Capital Gains Tax.

Mr Scott said, under the new law, it may well be necessary to licence a dam built before 1985 on a property bought before 1985.

“If the dam is licenced, it could be subject to CGT and the land may also be subject if the Australian Tax Office deems the land title to have changed,” he said.

“However, we can’t get a ruling on this from the ATO.”

Also of concern to the WA Water Users Coalition is the threat of water allocation cuts.

Mr Scott said, under the new laws, the government could tell a farmer to cut his water use if it believed he had been allocated too much water.

“This will only affect one or two areas in WA but there could be some farmers seriously hurt. There has been no compensation proposed.”

WA Water Users Coalition chairman Graeme Waugh said his organisation had been forced to fight its way into the consultation process surrounding the new laws.

“Originally, there was no plan to consult with us,” Mr Waugh said.

“We were in a position where the law could have changed and we would not have known about it.”

The new laws do allow for trading in water, which most parties seem to think is a good thing.

There has also been a safeguard put in place to prevent companies buying up water licences as happened in the US.

“When there was a water shortage, these companies made a lot of money,” Mr Scott said.

Water Resources Minister Kim Hames said compensation had been provided for in the legislation.

“Where rights may be taken from one user and given to another, compensation will be mandatory but where water supplies are reduced by factors such as climate change, the government will decide the case,” Dr Hames said.

He said amendments to minimise CGT impacts and ensure the appeals process was just had been included in the Bill presented to the Upper House.

The Bill had also been amended to include the requirement that the Act be reviewed in five years.

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