GWI experts weigh in on water policy
UNSW-GWI experts on ecosystems and water law have made three submissions recently in response to two significant consultations being undertaken by Australian State Governments.
The Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission was established by the Government of South Australia in January 2018 to investigate the operations and effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin system. The Commission invited submissions from a range of people and groups with information to contribute to the inquiry.
Professor Richard Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, and Associate Professor Cameron Holley, from the UNSW Faculty of Law, each provided a submission commenting on some of the key challenges identified in the Commission’s terms of reference, which includes identifying whether the Murray Darling Basin Plan and the Water Act 2007 are likely to achieve what they were designed to do.
Prof Kingsford’s submission proposes that the goal to restore rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin remains vulnerable to policy and management shifts that favour irrigation over other socio-economic sectors and environmental health goals—thus undermining the objectives and outcomes of the Water Act, the Basin Plan and the intended environmental outcomes.
To support his claims, Kingsford’s submission describes five main policy and management concerns relating to implementation of the Basin Plan: the ongoing reductions in the volume of environmental flow; a lack of transparency in accounting and auditing of water use with inadequate compliance efforts; inadequate use of scientific evidence and technology; the need for improved focus for planning and management on the whole river system; and an absence of punitive measures available for the Australian Government to hold States to account for inadequately implementing the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
…substantial improvements to compliance and enforcement are needed, because no matter how many novel governance tools are designed, it will all be insufficient if compliance and enforcement is inadequate or absent.
A/Prof Cameron Holley, UNSW Faculty of Law
Associate Professor Cameron Holley from the UNSW Faculty of Law also provided a submission to the Royal Commission in collaboration with Associate Professor Darren Sinclair from the University of Canberra, Dr Tariro Mutongwizo, Postdoctoral Fellow at UNSW Sydney and Amelia Brown, Research Assistant at UNSW Sydney.
This submission was concerned primarily with issues of compliance, enforcement, monitoring and metering. A/Prof Holley and colleagues state that the current design and implementation of water law and regulation does not appear sufficient to meet future water challenges, particularly in the face of climate change.
It highlights the challenge of ensuring that non-urban water users abide by their individual conditions and extraction limits, and details four key recommendations: supporting and implementing water compliance and enforcement; educating water users; improving monitoring and metering in water markets; and rebuilding and intensifying system wide monitoring and benchmarking.
Holley’s submission states that “…substantial improvements to compliance and enforcement are needed, because no matter how many novel governance tools are designed, it will all be insufficient if compliance and enforcement is inadequate or absent.”
Recently, Prof Kingsford also provided a submission to the consultation papers for Implementing the NSW Floodplain Harvesting Policy and Better Management of Environmental Water.
Kingsford’s submission states that implementation and management policies currently proposed in the two consultation papers have major risks and inconsistencies, and do not adequately reflect the inquiries and criticisms of water management in NSW—nor do they consider the current evidence base or technology needed for tracking water use.
The submission describes the risks of making policy decisions that may exacerbate impacts on Ramsar-listed wetlands and downstream users and lists some recommendations for consideration.
To view the full submissions, please use the links below.