MIL ac­tion dropped

Southern Riverina news - - RURAL OUTLOOK -

Mur­ray Ir­ri­gation Lim­ited has been found in breach of the Wa­ter Charge (In­fra­struc­ture) Rules, but the Aus­tralian Com­pe­ti­tion and Con­sumer Com­mis­sion has said it will not en­force ac­tion.

It an­nounced late last week it would in­stead ‘‘re­solve the mat­ter ad­min­is­tra­tively’’.

The ACCC says it found that be­tween De­cem­ber 2016 and Novem­ber 2018, Mur­ray Ir­ri­gation Lim­ited failed to pub­lish all re­quired in­for­ma­tion on the wa­ter charges it im­poses un­der two agree­ments with non-ir­ri­gation cus­tomers, WaterNSW and the Of­fice of En­vi­ron­ment and Her­itage.

The breach is be­lieved to have oc­curred when WaterNSW utilised the com­pany’s channels to de­liver wa­ter af­ter Mur­ray Ir­ri­gation’s sched­ule of charges was is­sued.

The mat­ter was ad­dressed by Na­tional Ir­ri­ga­tors Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Steve Whan in a sub­mis­sion to the fed­eral Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture and Wa­ter Re­sources on Novem­ber 30.

‘‘The sit­u­a­tion in­volved an agree­ment ne­go­ti­ated over a long pe­riod of time be­tween MIL and Wa­ter New South Wales to al­low en­vi­ron­men­tal wa­ter to be de­liv­ered us­ing MIL’s in­fra­struc­ture,’’ Mr Whan wrote in the sub­mis­sion.

‘‘Be­cause of the time in­volved in ne­go­ti­at­ing the agree­ment, Wa­ter New South Wales re­quired wa­ter to be de­liv­ered ur­gently and re­quested that MIL al­low them to use the in­fra­struc­ture im­me­di­ately; MIL co­op­er­ated with the re­quest.

‘‘This has po­ten­tially placed MIL in tech­ni­cal breach of the rules and also in a po­si­tion where they may be un­able to charge Wa­ter New South Wales for the use of their in­fra­struc­ture for the pe­riod be­fore the re­vised rules were pub­lished.’’

In an­nounc­ing the ACC’s de­ci­sion last week, its deputy chair Mick Keogh said it ap­peared no cus­tomers were dis­ad­van­taged be­cause of Mur­ray Ir­ri­gation Lim­ited’s fail­ure to pro­vide timely in­for­ma­tion, so de­cided ‘‘it was ap­pro­pri­ate to re­solve this is­sue ad­min­is­tra­tively’’.

Mur­ray Ir­ri­gation Lim­ited has since com­pleted a re­view, im­proved its in­ter­nal sys­tems and trained se­nior staff to pre­vent a re­cur­rence of the is­sue.

MIL head of cor­po­rate af­fairs Pete Smith said the ACCC’s de­ci­sion to treat the mat­ter as a tech­ni­cal breach is a ‘‘breath of fresh air’’.

‘‘It recog­nises that with­out mal­ice or ben­e­fit, the com­pany made an ap­pro­pri­ate bal­ance to de­liver ur­gent and much needed ser­vices against an ad­min­is­tra­tive re­quire­ment,’’ Mr Smith said.

‘‘In the real world that’s called com­mon sense and logic, and the ACCC should be com­mended for adopt­ing that phi­los­o­phy.’’

Un­der the wa­ter charge rules, in­fra­struc­ture op­er­a­tors are obliged to pub­lish in­for­ma­tion and pro­vide 10 busi­ness days’ no­tice to cus­tomers be­fore changes take ef­fect.

The rules are de­signed to en­sure that cus­tomers have timely no­tice of, and ad­e­quate in­for­ma­tion about, the charges they are re­quired to pay.

‘‘These rules have now been in ef­fect for eight years and it is im­por­tant that op­er­a­tors know their obli­ga­tions and com­ply with them,’’ Mr Keogh said.

‘‘The rules help pro­vide pric­ing trans­parency by en­sur­ing that all cus­tomers can see all reg­u­lated charges payable, un­less an ex­emp­tion from pub­li­ca­tion has been granted.’’

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