NSW water minister backs foreign ownership of Murray-Darling entitlements

Foreign investors ‘can’t put water in their suitcase and take it away,’ says Pavey as she stresses Australia's need for global investors and trade markets.

New South Wales water minister Melinda Pavey has supported the right of foreign investors to own water entitlements in the Murray-Darling Basin, as the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission prepares to publish its review into water markets later this month.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by the Farm Writers’ Association of NSW, Pavey described the topic of foreign investment in Australia water as “difficult,” because it often descended into jingoism and that it was “easy” to argue over during a drought.

In response to a question from Agri Investor about her views on private ownership of water, Pavey, who represents the seat of Oxley for the National Party, said: “Whether you’re a Chinese investor, an American investor, a Canadian investor, a UK investor, or a Japanese investor – you can’t put that land or that water in your suitcase and take it away.

“We are part of an international economy and 70 percent of what we do [as farmers] we export – we can’t have our cake and eat it too, and shut down the border when we want to. We need that international investor.”

Pavey also looked ahead to a review into Murray-Darling Basin water markets that is being conducted by ACCC commissioner Mick Keogh, who is due to publish his interim report on June 30.

“I am looking forward very much to Mick Keogh’s review. That’s going to be a really important foundational document which will give us the capacity to give some transparency to water ownership, so the conspiracies can be put to rest,” she said.

“Or if we need to take further action we can do that.”

Investor submissions to the inquiry, published in February, showed a desire for greater transparency and availability of information in water markets.

Market sources have indicated to Agri Investor that they expect to see recommendations made to change regulations surrounding water brokers and other measure to increase transparency, which most would welcome.

Aware Water said in its submission that the “current water entitlement framework and its regulations should remain the backbone of the Australian water market.”

“The framework has attracted and facilitated capital investment into Australian agriculture and, in order to preserve that investment, it is paramount there remain high levels of certainty as to water entitlement rights and attributes,” it said, arguing that changes to regulations could lead to less certainty and lower levels of investment.

Following its interim report, the ACCC must complete the inquiry and provide a final report to treasurer Josh Frydenberg by November 30, 2020.