Source: Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
The ACCC has determined that Murray Irrigation Limited breached the Water Charge (Infrastructure) Rules, however it has decided to resolve the matter administratively without enforcement action.
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.
“It appears no customers were disadvantaged because of Murray Irrigation Limited’s failure to provide timely information, so we decided it was appropriate to resolve this issue administratively,” ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh said.
Murray Irrigation Limited undertook to review and improve its internal systems and train senior staff to prevent a recurrence of the issue.
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.”
The ACCC provided advice to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources on a range of amendments to the water charge rules (including Water Charge (Infrastructure) Rules) in September 2016. The Minister is still considering the balance of the ACCC’s advice, having made the decision to remove requirements for medium-sized operators to prepare network service plans under Part 5 of the Water Charge (Infrastructure) Rules.
Operators are still required to comply with the existing water charge rules and no amendments to the publication requirements have been made at this time. The ACCC’s advice on changes to the water charge rules recommended the publication requirements continue, with some minor changes.
Murray Irrigation is one of the largest irrigation corporations in the Murray Darling Basin, providing irrigation water and drainage services to more than 2100 properties in the Murray Irrigation Areas. It holds more than 1.4 million mega litres of water access licences.
The Water Act 2007 regulates arrangements to address the sustainability and management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Under the Water Act, the ACCC is responsible for regulating and monitoring water charges. It must also monitor and enforce compliance with the Water Charge (Infrastructure) Rules, which relate to water infrastructure fees and charges levied by bulk water and irrigation infrastructure operators in the Murray-Darling Basin.
The Water Charge (Infrastructure) Rules require all “regulated charges” to be on an operator’s schedule of charges. “Regulated charges” include fees payable to an irrigation infrastructure operator for access to its irrigation network.
When it believes a breach of the Water Act or water charge or market rules has taken place, the ACCC has a variety of enforcement options available under the Water Act 2007, including enforceable undertakings and infringement notices and administrative resolution.
The ACCC has released a number of guides to assist irrigators, infrastructure operators and governments in the Murray-Darling Basin to understand the requirements of the Commonwealth Water Rules.