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Independent role must oversee water reform

25 June 2014

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) is concerned that the Commonwealth Government is shifting away from its commitment to deliver triple bottom line outcomes in relation to water reform.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the National Water Initiative (NWI), agreed by the Council of Australian Governments. Chair of the NFF Water Taskforce, Mr Les Gordon, said it is a timely reminder that water reforms should seek to optimise social, economic and environmental outcomes for the benefit of all Australians.

“The Federal Government’s Water Act and the Murray–Darling Basin Plan place the environment above all else. As the Government reviews the Water Act this year, the NFF would like to see a return to balanced consideration of the social, economic and environmental outcomes,” said Mr Gordon.

“The NWI is a sound and enduring policy. Under the NWI, governments committed to water planning for both the environment and water users. The initiative sought consistent approaches to water pricing and the development and expansion of water markets.

“These are all important components that have helped to define the water property rights of farmers and irrigators. While many of these reforms are well progressed in some jurisdictions, others have a long way to go. The job is not finished,” said Mr Gordon.

The National Water Commission has been the custodian of the NWI for the past decade. It was abolished by the Government in the 2014–15 Budget. Ongoing funding has been provided to carry on key roles of the Commission.

“Given the job of water reform is not yet done, the NFF was disappointed that the National Water Commission was abolished,” said Mr Gordon.

“We argued the importance of an independent role to continue to oversee and audit water reforms by Governments at all levels. We will continue to do so.

“The Commonwealth Government needs to find the right home for this role—a home that is independent, appropriately skilled, and able to balance the diverse views and interests in water management,” Mr Gordon said.

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