Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 11 Hansard (15 November) . . Page.. 3441..
DR FOSKEY (continuing):
The national plan for water security aims to ensure that rural water use is placed on a sustainable footing within the next decade. There are four principal elements of the national Water Act: establishment of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, establishment of basin-wide planning through a basin plan, a role for the ACCC in water trading and pricing; and expansion of Bureau of Meteorology functions regarding water information and standards.
The ACT will have to deliver a water resource plan, which will need to be accredited by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. It is ironic that, now that we have full voting rights in the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council, the authority can override the commission. It is a bit like the ACT and the commonwealth, really. Being a largely urban jurisdiction, with few rural high-water users, it should be fairly easy for the ACT to set a sustainable cap which reflects current levels of use and allows for reasonable population growth in the ACT. We will need to develop catchment and aquifer water plans to ensure they comply with that cap on annual diversions for the territory's water requirements under the Murray-Darling Basin agreement and the national plan.
Under schedule H of the agreement, the executive must appoint a commissioner and two deputy commissioners. It is important that the people appointed to these positions are not political appointments. They must have a sound understanding of the workings of our river system, its needs and our responsibilities. It would be helpful if they had expertise in water resources management, hydrology, freshwater ecology, resource economics or a combination of these.
Greens Senator Rachel Siewert was a member of the Senate committee that inquired into the Water Act. She presented a minority report which highlighted not only negative issues about the national Water Act but some positive issues. These include: its commitment to determine sustainable extraction levels; its commitment to a shared planning framework and a whole-of-basin perspective, realising the promises of the national water initiative; creating greater water security for all stakeholders; the provision of an opportunity to overcome the inertia and infighting that have characterised basin governance; and the meeting of international commitments.
I commend the book by Daniel Connell which gives a history of the management of the Murray-Darling Basin since white settlement. It indicates the shameful way in which state and commonwealth politics, competition between them and lack of intention to reach good environmental and social outcomes for the basin have characterised our dealings so far. We can only hope that things get better.
The Bureau of Meteorology has a major role in providing more comprehensive water data. The provision of $400 million will go a long way towards enhancing state based investments in water monitoring and water use metering programs. However, the Greens see a number of weaknesses in the act. These include the long lead time before the basin plan effectively comes into operation, allowing existing state water plans to continue for their full lifetime. Most go until 2014, but Victoria's continues to 2019. Therein we might see the problem that Victoria had with the Commonwealth proposal. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists is particularly concerned that many of the environmental assets and the rural wealth of irrigation could be destroyed by the time these agreements run out.