WA­TER FEES FIGHT

Wanneroo Weekender - - Front Page - Lucy Jarvis

GROUPS rep­re­sent­ing veg­etable grow­ers are lob­by­ing against the 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, wa­ter li­cences.

GROUPS rep­re­sent­ing fruit and veg­etable grow­ers are lob­by­ing against the 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, wa­ter li­cences.

Vegeta­blesWA, in as­so­ci­a­tion with WA Farm­ers, WA Citrus, Pome West, Wines of WA and WA Pota­toes, de­vel­oped a joint re­sponse to the dis­cus­sion 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,” he said.

“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.

He said the de­part­ment spent about $14 mil­lion a year to as­sess ap­pli­ca­tions.

Cara­booda grower An­thony Lieu said the li­cence fees would add “an­other cost to al­ready low mar­gins”.

“I’ve spo­ken to a few other grow­ers; the mar­gins aren’t there for us to con­tinue,” Mr Lieu said.

“With in­creas­ing costs, some don’t want to do it any­more.

“Right now, where we are sit­ting, is as far as the lim­its can take us in terms of the lim­its for costs.

“Adding more costs to ev­ery­thing is go­ing to hurt the in­dus­try. If there are no farm­ers, we will have to im­port food.”

Mr Brown said the fees for min­ing and pub­lic wa­ter sup­ply sec­tors were cal­cu­lated to re­cover the cost – about $720,000 an­nu­ally – in­curred by the de­part­ment in assess­ing wa­ter li­cences and per­mits.

He said the de­part­ment had been con­sult­ing the com­mu­nity since Au­gust about ex­tend­ing the fees to other sec­tors, but not pro­posed a set charge.

“The con­sul­ta­tion in­cluded dis­cus­sion about the po­ten­tial for full or par­tial cost re­cov­ery,” he said.

“No de­ci­sion has been made by the State Gov­ern­ment on wa­ter li­cence fees for other wa­ter use sec­tors, in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture and hor­ti­cul­ture.”

d489054 Pic­ture: Mar­tin Ken­nealey

Lands­dale Straw­berry Farm man­ager An­thony Lieu.

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