Livestock SA want a say on key drainage issues

THE SE regional group of Livestock SA wants primary producers to be involved in decision-making on key drainage issues.

The group wants to be represented on the State Government's proposed community panel regarding the SE Drainage System Operation and Management bill and a potential drainage levy.

At its inaugural meeting at Lucindale on Monday night Livestock SA vice-president Jack England - also convening chair of the meeting and a farmer from Kingston - reported on his recent talks with State Environment Minister Ian Hunter.

He told of the Labor Government's plan to set up a community panel, led by the SE NRM board, to work out a funding model for the maintenance of drainage systems in the SE.

It is the government's view that the beneficiaries of the drainage should be the ones to pay. The State Government currently puts in $2.1 million a year towards the drainage but more funding is needed.

Under a proposed model, the State would pay for a third of the cost, the beneficiaries a third and the wider community a third - but it is up to the community panel to deliberate further on the issue.

State Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Ian Hunter on a visit to Naracoorte in June.

State Minister for Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Ian Hunter on a visit to Naracoorte in June.

"I know a few people expressed reservations about this," Mr England said about the proposed community panel.

"There are concerns it will go the same way as the consultation on the water allocation plan (where farmers were consulted for years but felt they were ultimately ignored)."

Lochaber's Yvonne Correll suggested that Primary Producers SA be approached in order to help get the primary producers' views across on the matter.

"Primary Producers SA needs a representative on the community panel," she said.

A motion was passed that Livestock SA consult with PPSA on an opportunity to be represented on the community panel regarding SEDSOM bill and levy proposal.

A week before this meeting, Wattle Range Council reaffirmed its position on the matter: opposing a drainage tax for SE landholders.

The council passed a motion to oppose the imposition of a drainage levy as proposed by the State Government and advise the Natural Resources Management Board drainage levy community panel accordingly. 

The council also resolved to notify both Minister Hunter and his shadow Michelle Lensink of the decision.

Mayor Peter Gandolfi was scathing in his assessment of the government's formation of the panel to help decide how maintenance of drains in the SE would be funded.

"The move to establish this 'community panel', in my mind, is nothing more than an attempt to divide our local communities by arguing who should pay more or less of this proposed tax," he said. "In other words - divide and conquer."

Mr Gandolfi said the community should be aware that the State Government did not have the legislative power to charge a tax on drainage. 

"The government attempted to push through parliament a bill to allow the minister to charge landholders a drainage tax but this was withdrawn as the opposition and the minor parties would not support the bill and therefore it did not pass through the legislative assembly," he said.

In other words, it is not law.

"Despite this, it's my view that the government will use the findings of this community panel to convince the opposition and minor parties that landholders in the SE have agreed to a tax - I'm yet to meet a landholder that does."

He went on to accuse the Labor party of deceiving its constituents.

"By the setting up of this panel I believe that landholders have been misled to believe that the proposed tax is currently lawful and they need to deal with how and who will pay it," Mr Gandolfi said. 

"I would urge landholders to be aware of this and instead use the community panel to express their opposition to the whole idea."

Mr Gandolfi reported funding for the drainage board had not been increased this year for the capital upgrades and maintenance of infrastructure. 

"Taking into account inflation, in real terms, funding has again been cut by the State Government," he said. "Instead of maintaining the current network, the State Government is now contributing $6 million to build a new drain to run water into the Coorong; with no economic benefit to the region or State. 

"This drain extension has been opposed by SELGA on the basis that adequate maintenance has not been undertaken on the current network."

Mr Gandolfi recommended the council take a steadfast position and represent its communities strongly in opposing the government's planned drainage tax.

"Our drainage network economically benefits the entire State and therefore funding to maintain and upgrade the network should be allocated through general revenue," he concluded.