Submission

To:Senate Committee on the Environment and Communications Legislation
re: Inquiry into the National Water Commission (Abolition) Bill 2014

Date : 10 October 2014

The Environmental Farmers Network represents farmers in Southeast Australia committed to sustainable farming in a social, environmental and economic sense. We represent farmers (mostly commercial) very concerned about: the impact of climate change on farms, people and landscapes; the loss of farm biodiversity; and, the loss of farmland and relatively natural areas to urban expansion. Our policies are available at www.environmentalfarmersnetwork.net.au.  In particular, we encourage strong greenhouse gas mitigation and active adaptation to climate change. We strongly support State and Federal Governments developing market mechanisms that reimburse those landholders who provide ecosystem services such as on-farm retention and protection of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

Continuing Functions of NWC

EFN strongly believes that Australia needs a professional independent body to both advise the States and the Federal Government on water policy and to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of water management.

Water management in Australia is a critical issue for both our present and future needs. An independent body with a professional approach and an untrammelled long term view is seen as invaluable in transcending the pressures of short term election cycles and in rationally assessing options and policy directions.

The over-extraction of catchment water in the Murray-Darling basin has not gone away. We need to be ready for a rough climatic ride over the coming decades. This projected future indicates a greater, not lesser, need for a dedicated and overarching body such as the NWC.

The following functions of the current Commission are strongly endorsed as true imperatives for getting the best policy outcomes:

  • Rationally and independently advising Government on water use reform;
  • Performing triennial assessments of the National Water Initiative;
  • Conducting audits of the Murray Darling Basin Plan;
  • Monitoring legislation that may impact on water catchments such as extractive industries (eg mining, coal seam gas extraction ) and carbon farming;
  • Monitoring sustainable extraction of water from the landscape;
  • Reviewing jurisdictional approaches to ground and surface water connectivity; and,
  • Comparing the efficiency of metropolitan, regional and rural water delivery authorities.

These very important functions are examples of what the NWC has been doing and should continue to do as an independent body.

Consequences of removing NWC.

Pulling the Commission to bits and placing some of its functions in Government Departments will:

  • reduce efficiency of water reform, reduce the return on public monies invested, and reduce the human capacity already invested;
  • make advice subject to non-transparent ministerial reinterpretation;
  • reduce the level of service delivery; and,
  • reduce co-ordination of outcomes.

Australia is a world leader in having an effective water market. This is underpinned by having a strong independent body (the Commission) providing robust market information. In fact, its role should be strengthened so that it is truly a national market regulator.

Given the severe impact of climate change on water availability in the future and the ongoing need for further water reform, the abolition of the NWC is seen by the EFN as short term cost cutting with damaging long term implications for all Australians and the catchments that support our lifestyle. The expected severe impact of climate change on water availability and the consequent need for further water reform makes the consideration of abolition as reprehensible.  We must remember this institution was created in the millennium drought. This situation will recur probably sooner rather than later. It would be foolish to lose our intellectual capacity and governance structure in this area only to require it again in a few short years.

Conclusion

Many of our members have already been impacted by poor decision making on water issues and we are astounded that the Government is undermining administrative arrangements put in place to progress the wise use of water.

The crucial implementation phase of the Basin Plan is before us and more than ever the oversight of the Murray Darling Basin Authority and States is required. The Basin Plan is perhaps the largest investment in water resource management we are likely to see. Industry and the taxpayer need the oversight of the NWC.

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