Water Journal : Water Journal December 2011
feature article feature articles 38 DECEMBER 2011 water Likewise, today, successful reform will depend on real leadership from all Basin governments and active involvement by Basin communities to focus on the long-term public interest. The Commission also observes that progress has been disappointing in the acknowledgement of the cultural values of water resources for Indigenous Australians. Many water plans do not consider Indigenous cultural values and economic development. Even where acknowledged, few steps have been made to develop strategies to address those interests. Our report identifies other key areas that are still to be implemented effectively. These areas include addressing currently unregulated forms of water interception; finishing the job in pricing and economic regulatory reform; continuing to put in place the metering, compliance and enforcement capacity needed to ensure confidence in our licensing systems; and fully implementing the commitments regarding groundwater/surface water connectivity. Looking Ahead The consistent message relayed to the Commission from stakeholders and government agencies is that the approach spelled out in the National Water Initiative is fundamentally sound. But if we are to deliver in full on the aspiration of the initiative there must be renewed leadership, a maturing of the water management agenda and a focus on the national arrangements to make it all happen. We need the leadership to set goals and visions, to communicate the benefits of reform and to make the difficult trade-offs that are in the long-term public interest but may have short-term costs for some parties. Above all, political leadership is required to maintain resourcing for the building blocks of water management among competing priorities, and to stand firm in the face of political expediency. In particular, urban water reform commitments in the National Water Initiative were limited in scope. This shortcoming became particularly evident as the drought highlighted weaknesses in the arrangements for managing the supply-demand balance in our cities. Stop-go policies and poorly communicated investment decisions have undermined community confidence. Rising prices have become the issue, while questions of value and service have been obscured. The Commission has, therefore, proposed a coherent urban reform plan based on clear objectives and accountabilities for this increasingly complex and diverse sector. Sustainable water management cannot be achieved in isolation. The high-level objectives of water reform interconnect with many other facets of government, including energy and resources policy, regional development, natural resource management, climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies, and urban planning. On the ground, programs and policies deriving from different areas of government can support each other, but gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies can also lead to inefficient and undesirable results. This is particularly the case where new frontiers are being opened, for example measures to address climate change or the rapid growth of new industries impacting on water resources. The Commission has also advocated greater coordination between water management and natural resource management initiatives, and a greater focus on water quality as an integral part of more effective water management. This will improve environmental outcomes and result in a more coordinated and structured approach to urban water quality regulation. It will be difficult to maintain the momentum of reform without effective mechanisms to make it all happen. The Commission has proposed that governments take a more strategic approach to the reform work program and to the reporting requirements that operate under the auspices of COAG. One of the cornerstones of improved water management is better knowledge, science and information. Despite significant investment and gains in recent years, there is still no national, strategic and coordinated approach to planning and funding science to support water planning and management in the most efficient manner. We say there should be. No Room for Failure The National Water Initiative has been a powerful and important instrument in improving water management in Australia. The Commission's view is that, as a consequence, water in Australia is managed better than it was in 2004. But there is still a distance to go. Getting there will require a determination to be in it for the long haul; a willingness from all involved to work cooperatively in the national interest. There is no room for failure. The prospect of increased climate variability, the emergence of new demands on the resource and an inevitable return to drought make sustainable management of Australia's water an enduring national imperative. This is an imperative that binds us all in the continuing implementation of a national water reform agenda.
Water Journal April 2012
Water Journal November 2011