Friday, 22 December 2017

Progress on National water reform and future reform priorities

VSGO has a dedicated Land, Planning and Environment Practice Group.  Recently the Group heard Jane Doolan of the Productivity Commission speak about the Commission's inquiry into National Water Reform.

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. 


Final Report 


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. 

Resource



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
8684 0402

Acting Managing Principal Solicitor
8684 0431



Thursday, 14 December 2017

Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse releases final report


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has today delivered its final report to the Governor-General. The final reports details the Commission's conclusions and recommendations, and cover a broad range of issues relating to both government and institutions.  Some parts of the report have been suppressed because their release would compromise the criminal investigation into the perpetrators involved.

At the final sitting in Sydney yesterday, Justice McClellan spoke of the former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's announcement of the Royal Commission on 12 November 2012, the Attorney-General's agreement to establish the Royal Commission and the issuing of its Letters Patent on 11 January 2013 and the first private sessions held on 3 April 2013.

Since then, the Royal Commission has heard from over 8,000 survivors and received reports of abuse occurring in more than 4,000 institutions across Australia.  Those institutions were observed to display a common theme: a culture in which the best interests of children were not a priority.  Instead, in many cases, the protection of the reputation of the institutions and the abusers were the priorities.

Justice McClellan reflected on the stories of personal trauma and tragedy of the survivors, acknowledging that it was impossible not to share the anger of victims in the face of what is for many, a trauma they can never escape.  He spoke of the Commissioners having witnessed the resilience of survivors and their steps towards recovery.  He acknowledged that the work of the Commission has been stressful and confronting.  He stated that the survivors have had a profound effect on the Commissioners and that they deserve the thanks of all Australians.

Survivors have contributed to a large volume of work, Message to Australia, to ensure that survivors' stories are never forgotten.  The National Library of Australia and the Library of each State and Territory will be the custodians of this book.

The Commissioners thanked the governments and all of the institutions and individuals who participated in their various consultation processes, including many roundtables, which assisted the Royal Commission in developing its recommendations.  Justice McClellan noted that many institutions and government agencies accepted that they had failed and engaged constructively with the Royal Commission in discussions about how they should change.

The Royal Commission has already provided three policy reports to government: Working with Children Checks, Civil Litigation and Redress, and Criminal Justice.


Link to final sitting address and its transcript.

Amie Herdman
Principal Solicitor

Peter Psarakis 
Solicitor


Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Heritage Update: Increased protection and reduced regulation


On the 1 November 2017, the Heritage Act 2017 (the Act) came into operation.  The new Act replaced the Heritage Act 1995, with alterations designed to increase the level of protection provided for places and objects of cultural heritage significance, while reducing regulatory processes.

Some of the most significant changes are described below.

Improved process for heritage registration


The Act has introduced changes to the heritage registration process, including:

  • The Executive Director, Heritage Victoria may now refuse a nomination that has 'no reasonable prospect of inclusion in the Heritage Register' (s 29(1)).  However, such a refusal may be reviewed by the nominator (s 30).   
  • There are further procedural variations, including a new 90 day time limit for Heritage Council hearing determinations (s 49(2)). 

Simplified process for permits


The Act has introduced changes to the process for obtaining permits, including:

  • There is a greater role for local heritage issues, by requiring consideration of local government submissions in determining applications (s 101(2)(c)) and in review (s 108(5)).  
  • The Executive Director is no longer required to consider 'undue financial hardship' of refusal, however the requirement to consider reasonable and economic use of the place remains (s 101(2)(b)).    
  • The Heritage Council has broader powers on review, and is now able to set aside a determination and make a substituted determination (108(7)(c)). 
  • There is a streamlined process for subdivision, with an exemption for works which comply with a permit of subdivision under the Planning and Environment Act 1987, where the Executive Director was a referral authority (s 91).

Strengthened enforcement and compliance


The Act has also introduced stronger enforcement and compliance provisions, including:

  • There has been a significant increase in penalties, including for works 'knowingly and recklessly' undertaken without a permit (s 87), as well as for negligently doing so (s 88) and a strict liability offence (s 89), which carries lesser penalties. 
  • The Executive Director has broader tools to protect heritage in addition to repair orders (s 155), by issuing rectification orders (s 160) and stop orders (s 165). 

Other changes in the Act include changes to the composition and operation of the Heritage Council and to protection of archaeological heritage.  Overall, the changes provide a stronger and clearer framework for protecting Victoria's heritage.

Where can I go for more information?


For more information about the changes in the Act and the review process that lead to these changes, please click here to be directed to the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning website.

If you would like advice about the changes and their implications for your practice, please contact:

Natasha Maugueret
Managing Principal Solicitor
8684 0402

Annette Jones
Acting Managing Principal Solicitor
8684 0431

Mark Egan
Principal Solicitor
8684 0489