A COLLECTION of commodity representative bodies, representing many of the nation's permanent planting industries has issued a call for federal and state governments to act immediately to free up water being bought by water traders at the expense of irrigators growing food and fibre.
Industry groups including Australian Grape and Wine, Australian Almond board; Citrus Australia, Australian Olive Association, Australian Table Grape Association, Pistachio Growers Association, Australian Walnut Industry Association, Summerfruit Australia, Hazelnuts Growers of Australia and Chestnuts Australia say interim measures must be introduced to free up water or risk a mass exodus from the land.
"Water needs to be made available to those who use it," Australian Table Grape Association chair John Argiro said.
"When water becomes a commodity for speculation, putting rural and regional Australia at risk, I think it should be obvious to all that Australia has a problem.
"We are not asking to limit water trade - quite the opposite. We want governments to intervene to allow water already allocated to be put to consumptive use."
Australian Grape and Wine chief executive officer Tony Battaglene said Australia's drought-stricken communities were in peril, and the government needed to act straight away.
"We can't wait for more government inquiries," he said.
"Time is critical and interim measures to stop non-irrigators slowly starving irrigators of much needed water while keeping prices high are needed urgently."
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The industry groups claim a single company has bought about 9 per cent of the total water allocation traded in the Murray-Darling Basin for 2018-19.
"Many irrigators with permanent trees or vines, dairy cows or customer supply contracts have limited choices when it comes to water," Mr Battagelene said.
"They try and purchase the water, or they face the choice of losing their business and assets. There is no middle ground for them.
"Speculation on water during a drought, a vital part of irrigated crop production may be legal but it enforces hardship on other entities and may have long term consequences for some sectors and flow on impacts to regional communities.
"There is no time to delay. There is no room for politics. For many, this is an issue of survival."
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