Landholders Leon Clothier and John Paull, SunWater’s Wayne Liebelt and Robyn Desretts with AgForce vice-president Ian Burnett.
Landholders Leon Clothier and John Paull, SunWater’s Wayne Liebelt and Robyn Desretts with AgForce vice-president Ian Burnett.

Graziers stunned at SunWater slug

LANDHOLDERS whose properties were compulsorily acquired by SunWater when it built the Fairbairn Dam in the '70s, are locked in a fight over "sky-rocketing" rental prices and neglected contractual agreements with the region's water provider.

Frustrated graziers from the flood margin on the southern side of the dam have accused SunWater of using bullying tactics to get landholders to sign new, "second-rate" agreements.

They said rental rates were out of control and promises made in the original 30-year licences were being ignored.

Representatives from SunWater were brought face-to-face with landholders on Monday morning for an AgForce-organised meeting in Emerald aimed at ironing out the differences between the two parties.

Landholder Leon Clothier said the new licences offered little security and abandoned previous contractual arrangements.

"In the old (licences) it expressly states that we would have the right to negotiate on a 30-year term," Mr Clothier said.

"When the new agreements came out, in our case, we were rushed into signing a new agreement of 10 years.

"It was done for a reason, that 30 years. Ten years gives very little security of tenure."

The Fairbairn Dam was constructed in 1972 and in order for building to go ahead, SunWater compulsorily acquired properties along the southern banks in what is known as the flood margin.

Landholders were offered 30-year licences, with the option of 30-year renewals, to run and manage the land. Some now say they have been forced into signing new, inferior 10-year deals, while others are refusing to sign at all.

Licensee Don Howard said rental prices were out of control.

"The rates that SunWater is charging, they are going up at a phenomenal rate," Mr Howard said. "If they keep going they are going to get beyond me being able to lease it."

Several other landholders agreed with Mr Howard.

In a statement yesterday, a SunWater spokeswoman said the company aimed to address the concerns held by many of the licensees.

"On the whole SunWater is happy with the way in which landholders have managed the licensed areas," the spokeswoman said.

"SunWater understands that landholders are concerned about a number of issues and is committed to working with the landholders to address these concerns."

Golden Triangle member and affected landholder Andrew Bate said there were no landholders at the meeting that wanted to originally sell their country to SunWater.

"We've got fixed infrastructure on there that we need to maintain and we just want to be treated with dignity and respect, that's what it comes down to," Mr Bate said.

Another landholder Neville Crook questioned SunWater's right to change the agreements.

"To change an agreement you need to have both sides agree, you can't just have SunWater say, 'well we don't like it now so we'll change it'," Mr Crook said.


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