Ifwe can’t grow sugarcane, what would you suggest?
TOUGH CHOICE: Isis farmer Keith Anderson and more than 800 irrigators from the Bundaberg and Isis regions have to decide whether they support a proposal to own and manage the channel irrigation scheme currently owned by SunWater.
DO YOU want to manage the SunWater Channel Irrigation system?
This was the tough question asked of Childers farmers by members of the Bundaberg-Isis Interim Board, which was visiting the town after being established to examine the irrigation proposal.
Almost 50 farmers attended the Wednesday, June 11, meeting at the Isis Cultural Centre, where Bundaberg-Isis Interim Board chairman Maurie Maughan recommended the growers vote to run the company.
If the majority of growers go with the board’s recommendation, almost a billion dollars worth of SunWater assets in the Childers and Bundaberg region irrigation system will be privately run – by the irrigators.
But Childers canegrower Keith Anderson, whose family has been in the industry for more than 100 years, said he was confused and remained unsure which way he would vote.
“I don’t know what to think about it all,” Mr Anderson said.
“I was thinking about voting ‘yes’ and now I don’t know.”
In the meeting, which ran more than two hours, Mr Maughan presented a series of PowerPoint slides, including graphics and statistics.
He explained to the growers that the company’s shares would be divided at one per megalitre of their allocation, allowing irrigators to attend and vote at company meetings.
Mr Maughan told the irrigators the current price agreement for water would stay on the same price path until its expiry in 2017, after which it would increase by about 5% per annum.
But for SunWater, a government-owned corporation, to consider the board’s proposal it would have to be established the State Government would benefit financially from the handover.
Mr Maughan said while the State Government would initially have to dish out in the vicinity of a $100 million separation payment, it would break even in 20 years and benefit in the long term.
For the irrigators, he said “a number of benefits” outweighed the costs if they chose to take on the company.
“They will be in control of the assets that supply them their way,” he said.
“There will be funding in place to ensure that the existing service levels are maintained.
“And there will be funding in place to ensure the indicated price path is maintained.”
He said the financial benefits for the irrigators would start immediately, unlike for the State Government.
“The financial benefits start from the minute they take over the scheme. The benefits will accrue from the time they take over management,” he said.
After Mr Maughan finished his presentation, he opened the floor to questions.
Mr Anderson considered the proposal and raised his hand with a question that saw the formerly silent crowd chuckle.
“What would you suggest we grow over here then?
“If we can’t grow sugarcane, what would you suggest we grow in the Isis if we can’t afford water,” Mr Anderson said.
While Mr Maughan didn’t have a solution to Mr Anderson’s question, he was clear the farmers had to make a decision one way or the other.
“No matter which way we go, we are stuck on a scheme that is very costly to run,” he said.
“Please vote one way or the other.”
PRICE HIKE: Isis farmer Keith Anderson and more than 800 irrigators from the Bundaberg and Isis regions have to decide whether they support a proposal to own and manage the channel irrigation scheme currently owned by SunWater.