Productivity Commission inquiry finds National Water Initiative “outdated” and needs change

By Rodney Woods

Changes to the National Water Initiative are a must if you ask individuals and organisations in the water sector.

Several groups, such as Australian Dairy Farmers, the Riverina and Murray Joint Organisation and Greater Shepparton City Council and individuals like Yea's Jan Beer have made submissions to the Productivity Commission's National Water Reform (2020) inquiry.

Australian Dairy Farmers worked with the National Farmers’ Federation to form a submission and the ADF described the current initiative as "outdated".

“Since its creation in 2004, the National Water Initiative has provided a valuable
blueprint to advance water reform in Australia,” the submission said.

“However, it is clear that the NWI is now outdated and must be renewed to better reflect the lessons from past and current reform, and to provide a foundation to address future challenges.

“A renewed set of principles should centre on communities, trust and integrity, recognising the body of work that has been undertaken through the NWI.”

RAMJO's submission discussed the group's Water Position Paper, which identifies eight key recommendations, with significant overlaps relating to the focus areas of the Productivity Commission's inquiry.

“RAMJO recommends a comprehensive review of the water market, which could include, but not be limited to, ownership, water security, capturing true costs of water transfers, telemetric reporting, and floodplain harvesting,” the submission said.

“Regulatory reform across multiple areas is necessary to ensure a nationwide plan goes hand in hand with an efficient water market.”

While Greater Shepparton City Council acknowledged the work the NWI had achieved, it too agreed that change was needed.

“We suggest that the implementation of the NWI has caused a number of significant, unforeseen and unintended adverse impacts inconsistent with the NWI's intent, including enabling downstream agricultural development that has not taken into account the environmental, social and economic impacts of delivering the extra water required for greenfield sites, including the impacts on upstream communities and adversely impacting on the Goulburn River,” the submission said.

Much like Greater Shepparton City Council, Yea's Jan Beer said many good things had come from the introduction of the NWI, but she believed protecting the region's rivers and communities were not among them.

“The National Water Initiative has been particularly successful in implementing an open water market policy and removing barriers to water trading, thus enabling water to be traded to its highest value use,” she said in her submission.

“In doing so, it has overseen the environmental degradation of our three major river systems, created irreparable economic and social harm to family farms and regional communities.

“It has clearly shown that its objective of an open water market is not compatible with community well-being or equitable access to water by all industry user groups.”

The Murray-Darling Basin Authority also made a submission and agreed that the NWI must change to reflect new information and lessons learnt so Australia's water resources, including those in the basin, could continue to support Australia's communities, ecosystems, industries and First Nations people.

To read all the submissions, visit: https://www.pc.gov.au/inquiries/current/water-reform-2020/submissions#initial