If you haven't had the chance to look at the draft report, we've summarised the key points in this blog.
National Water Reform
Earlier this year the Productivity Commission launched a major review of Australian water reform and on 15 September 2017 the Commission released its draft inquiry report into National Water Reform. The purposes of the national inquiry report canvass an assessment on Australia's progress on national water reform such as how past water policy decisions have been made and how effective those decisions have been. In particular the report highlights Australia's water reform achievements and progress over the last 20 to 30 years. The inquiry has also developed draft future reform priorities in water resource management and rural and urban water services. The aim is to ensure the water sector's effectiveness and efficiency through 'consistent and coordinated regulatory and management arrangements that are aligned with the National Water Initiative' (NWI). An aim of the report is to ensure that future policies will reflect significant challenges facing the water sector such as population growth, climate change and community expectations and dependence on water environments.
Australian Water Reform
The Commission report identifies Australia's water sector as an international world leader in water management. It goes on to highlight the importance of a coordinated and thoughtful approach to water management, particularly given Australia's arid environment and reliance on our water economy.
Australia's national approach to water reform began in 1994 through the COAG water reform framework and has continued through subsequent initiatives such as the introduction of the Water Act 2007 (Cth) and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in November 2012; however the cornerstone of Australia's water reform efforts has been the 2004 NWI.
Progress and achievements
The report identifies that National water reforms have significantly improved Australia's approach to water management. The report endorses the continued national relevance of the NWI and its principles, emphasising that the NWI's objectives and outcomes have largely been met however notes that progress has slowed in recent years. Examples of such progress include the development of key foundations of water management such as the:
- creation of legislative and policy frameworks which provide for clear and long-term water entitlements for consumptive uses
- establishment of water planning arrangements for the majority of areas of intensive water use across Australia
- establishment of water markets which allow water to be traded to higher value uses
- implementation of water resource accounting such as water metering
- provision of integrated management of water for environmental sustainability purposes in most jurisdictions.
The report also identifies the improvement of urban water and irrigation infrastructure services as a consequence of improved institutional and pricing reforms.
The Commission further identifies that overall water reform has delivered significant benefits to irrigators, other water users and the broader community.
Why is reform required?
Along with identifying progress made to date the Commission report identifies further work required by the Government such as:
- actioning unmet NWI objectives and outcomes;
- addressing gaps and limitations in existing NWI policy settings highlighted by the Millennium Drought; and
- responding to the challenges which have emerged in the 13 years since the NWI was signed. The challenges are posed by population growth, climate change and changing community expectations and need to be addressed in policy frameworks.
It is these gaps in current water policy that form the rationale for the recommended reform priorities.
Future reform priorities
The report identified the following reform priorities:
- maintaining the key foundations of water management; and
- improving and enhancing national policy settings in areas such as entitlement and planning arrangements for extractive industries, and the water requirements of Indigenous people.
Of importance are recommendations to revise existing policies such as the current arrangements for extractive industries and incorporating alternative water sources.
The final report was handed to the Australian Government on 19 December 2017. The release of the final report by the Government is the final step in the process.
National Water Reform Report: https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/water-reform/draft
VGSO frequently assists regulators and authorities with advice on policy implementation and legislative developments. VGSO also assists with intergovernmental agreements, memoranda of understanding, and responses to inquiries. For a discussion of the services VGSO can provide in this area, please contact Annette Jones, Acting Managing Principal Solicitor, or Natasha Maugueret, Managing Principal Solicitor.
Managing Principal Solicitor
Acting Managing Principal Solicitor