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National Water Commission report a wake-up call to Govts

9 October 2009

“WHEN it comes to water reform in Australia, governments have failed to do what they said they would do – and it is irrigators and regional communities are hurting as a result,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today as the National Water Commission (NWC) released its report card on the progress of reform.

“More certainty, more information and more transparency are desperately needed to give irrigators and their communities the confidence to do what they are proven to be good at... produce food and fibre with ever-scarce water resources.

“These were key take-out messages from NWC’s independent assessment, of how governments are tracking on their national water reform commitments.”

The report is the first independent assessment of water policy since the Federal Government took over significant responsibility from the States, including Basin planning, water pricing and trading, and the management of environmental flows.

“As for the States, it is now five years since the National Water Initiative was signed and 15 years into a national water reform agenda,” Mr Crombie added. “On a positive note, there has been progress in areas such as the development of a market for water and there are opportunities, particularly through the development of the new Basin Plan, to resolve so called over allocation in order to give irrigators confidence in their future.

“However, the Murray Darling Basin Authority needs to provide much more information on where they are up to in the development of this new basin cap. At the moment a significant information vacuum exists – it must be filled or there is the risk of even more angst and uncertainty in regional communities about what their future may look like.

“Further, today’s report highlights that for farmers and the communities that rely on them, many key water reform pillars remain either lagging or poorly implemented. The report backs up NFF concerns it has taken to governments for years, such as:

  • There is insufficient progress on fully defining property rights to water;
  • Attempts to provide water for the environment lacks proper identification of the environmental assets that governments seek to protect and accountability for when the outcomes sought are being achieved. Governments need to get a handle of this issue immediately. Federal and State Governments are buying back water for the environment at a rapid rate, but without any accountability.
  • How governments and farmers share the risk and costs for changes in water allocations and decisions Government may or not make (known as risk assignment) is still unfinished business and requires much more transparency and clarity. The NFF welcomes the NWC recommendation for the development of guidelines and better communication to irrigators of each States’ approach to this issue.
  • More focus is required on structural adjustment to assist community change and make decisions on their futures.
  • Infrastructure investment is a positive contribution to better water management and requires coordination with a buyback program. NFF has made this point over and over again to Governments but despite some progress this week with a $300 million Commonwealth on-farm program, many of the states are dragging their feet in the dust! It is simply not good enough.
  • There is confusion in regional communities between government programs, the environmental assets being protected and how the basin plan cap relates to buy water. Such confusion does nothing to help communities already under extreme stress and it undermines water reform in Australia.

“The NFF understands this report will be presented to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). COAG owes it to regional communities and the irrigation sector, which feeds, clothes and employs the nation, to seriously address the report’s findings and fast-track fixing the deficiencies... not do what they have done for too long and just shelve it.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250.

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