Page 2375 - Week 08 - Thursday, 6 June 2013

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I am pleased to present this bill today. The Water Resources Act is an important piece of legislation, providing the framework to regulate the water resources of the territory. It regulates the use of water from rivers, lakes and underground aquifers through a range of tools administered by the Environment Protection Authority. The bill seeks to amend provisions of the Water Resources Act and its regulation to ensure the ACT has an appropriate and reasonable suite of enforcement tools.

The ACT has taken important steps to participate in the Council of Australian Governments reform concerning water resource laws. The national framework for compliance and enforcement systems for water resource management is a collaborative reform program agreed by the Council of Australian Governments and funded by the commonwealth. The national framework will form the basis for implementation plans developed in each state and territory guided by the principle of cost-effective water regulation.

There are five elements to the national framework: harmonising water resource compliance and enforcement laws, prioritising enforcement activity in high-risk water catchments, developing best practice regulatory methods, engaging and informing licensees and stakeholders, and monitoring water resource and enforcement activity.

The focus of this bill is on the first element of that framework—that is, reform of water resource enforcement laws. The scope of the national framework requires that water resource laws include offences for the following regulatory subjects: take or use water without a licence, unauthorised construction of bores, unauthorised work in a waterway, contravention of the conditions of a licence to take water, offences regarding water metering and reporting water usage, tampering with water meters, impeding authorised officers from performing their enforcement duties, and impacting on water quality.

For each of these issues the states and territories are required to have an adequate range of regulatory tools, including infringement notices, disciplinary action, sanctions and criminal offences, to strike a balance between protecting water resources and taking appropriate regulatory action. The national framework also requires adequate and appropriately scaled penalty levels for offences.

A review was undertaken of ACT water laws and enforcement provisions relative to the scope of the national framework. The review found that many of the required offences were already contained in the Water Resources Act, mainly because the ACT’s act is modern and developed with consideration of the other national water initiative and Murray Darling Basin reforms.

The review recommended a number of minor amendments to the Water Resources Act and regulation. The review also noted areas of the Environment Protection Act that may require amendment. However this latter issue is being considered separately in the current review of the Environment Protection Act process.

The amendments proposed in the bill ensure there are reasonable and adequate water laws to protect our water resources. The amendments are largely technical in nature and do not pose change in policy that is contrary to the intentions or objectives of the

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