PC draft report on water reforms says progress needs to continue – October 2017

Filed under: Environment and Indigenous Affairs, Environment, Politics, Australian Politics,

The Productivity Commission has released a draft report on its inquiry into national water reform and invited public comment by October 19.

It says it expects to hand its final report to the Government by the end of this year.

The Commission says these are the main points of the draft report:

  • It is crucial that Australia manages its water resources well, given our dry and highly variable climate, and the importance of water to our economy.
  • The National Water Initiative (NWI) has made a significant contribution to this objective, over more than a decade.
  • While much of the attention has been on the Murray‑Darling Basin, the NWI remains nationally relevant and the principles it contains are sound.
  • There has generally been good progress in implementing the NWI, and its objectives and outcomes have largely been met.
  • Legislative and policy frameworks are in place for water entitlements, planning, trading, accounting and the provision of water for the environment in most jurisdictions. These are the key foundations of water management.
  • Urban water and irrigation infrastructure services have been improved through institutional and pricing reforms.
  • Water reform has delivered significant benefits to irrigators, other water users and the broader community.
  • The expansion of water trading has provided irrigators with greater flexibility to manage change.
  • There is some evidence of improved ecological outcomes from increased environmental flows, but it will take time for the full benefits to be realised.

However, there remains further work to do. Governments need to:

  • complete unfinished business from the NWI
  • address gaps and limitations in existing policy settings
  • respond to the challenges posed by population growth, climate change and changing community expectations, including the cultural and economic aspirations of Indigenous people.

Reform priorities include:

  • maintaining the key foundations of water management and preventing bad policy habits re‑emerging
  • improving national policy settings in areas such as entitlement and planning arrangements for extractive industries, and the water requirements of Indigenous people
  • enhancing national policy settings in:
  • urban water management, including clearer roles and responsibilities for supply augmentation planning, enabling decentralised solutions and more outcomes‑focused environmental regulation
  • environmental water management, including better integration with waterway management, strengthening institutional and governance arrangements, and improved monitoring and evaluation for adaptive management, and
  • new irrigation infrastructure, where the focus needs to be on ensuring environmental sustainability and financial viability before any government resources are committed for construction.

The Commission says continued guardianship of gains to date and new reform priorities are strong reasons for Australian, State and Territory governments to recommit to a renewed NWI.

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