By Growcom CEO David Thomson
The Queensland Competition Authority (QCA) last week released their final report into irrigation pricing, recommending higher water prices and costs for farmers.
In truth, though farmers are typically an optimistic bunch, we should have known not to expect any better.
A review by the QCA is nothing but a fig leaf for the State Government to claim it’s keeping a lid on the runaway costs of monopoly businesses.
And let’s be clear about this. The water retailers Sunwater and Seqwater, like their colleagues in the electricity sector, are businesses explicitly designed to return a profit to State coffers.
We need to drop the romantic and outdated notion of them as public utilities.
We also need to take a step back to understand how these public utilities could turn parasitic on the very industries they were once designed to support.
Back in 1942 Australia was engaged in the greatest conflict the world had ever seen. In those testing times, with defence a national priority, the states and territories handed over their powers to tax income to the Federal Government.
But when the war was over, and our focus naturally shifted back to health, education, industry development and other vital services delivered at the state level, the taxing powers weren’t returned.
States and territories were reduced to beggars. They continue to have no incentive to grow industries where any benefit is first skimmed by the Federal Government and with no promise of the cash ever coming back.
Two things have happened in response which for industry has turned from a worrying trend into sad acceptance.
Together with other budgetary pressures, the once great Department of Primary Industries, the champion of Queensland agriculture, has been renamed, gutted and silenced.
And second, our public water and electricity utilities have been turned from instruments of industry advancement into poorly camouflaged tools of indirect taxation.
You’d be outraged at successive state governments for these responses if it weren’t so logical and rational.
Unfortunately there is no proper fix that’s easy. It involves either returning taxing powers to states and territories, or more boldly, abolishing them as a level of government.
Until either of those happens, rural Queensland wants to see a commitment from both the State Government and the Opposition to prioritise our profitability and decline the QCA’s recommended hikes on hidden water taxes.