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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7234


Senator TIERNEY (9:49 AM) —I seek leave to incorporate my speech as well.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

We are considering the inquiry into Australian Urban Water Management. This inquiry has taken 18 months, and the Committee has examined Urban Water across the nation. In terms of a water cycle we have looked at the flow of water into cities, the way that water is treated and then the disposal of wastewater and sewerage.

During this inquiry we have been very mindful that we live on the driest continent on earth. What is amazing given that very stark fact is the very prolific way we have used water in this country. Australia has been thoughtout the 20 century very wasteful in its use of our precious water resource. We're currently undertaking major reform Australia wide into the use of water in the countryside. What this inquiry addresses is the need to undertake a similar process in the City.

We certainly need to use our fresh water more carefully but we also need to be a lot smarter in the disposal of water and associated waste. A lot of this material has just been sent out to sea, but it is quite possible that much of it could be recycled.

The smart use of water was a major focus of the inquiry. But there is a difference within the committee on the way in which all of this should be managed. The chair of the committee has brought down a report which has a focus on a much more central role for the Australian government. It is very tempting in all areas of government activity to say, well the states often muck these things up—and perhaps our government should take it over.

But we do have a federal system and what is working quite successfully in many areas of government now—a co-operative federal approach. Indeed water reforms in the countryside under COAG are working very well in a cooperative way.

There was agreement by COAG in 1994 on the National Water Reform Framework. This framework put in place systems to manage rural water far more effectively; state and federal governments are working out proper pricing structures, and a proper balancing of use of water between agriculture and the environment. I believe that same sort of COAG process could be used to get agreement across the states on the proper management of water flow into the city and waste flows beyond the city.

Therefore the proper role of the Commonwealth as stated by the Commonwealth Environment Australia is one of leadership and coordination of these polices not direct administration and control. This should be under taken by the states who have responsibility for land and water.

With these general remarks on the broad thrust of the report I would now like to turn to the specific recommendation in the report and comment on where Government members agree or disagree.

Recommendation A states that the Commonwealth should play a more prominent role in driving the changes needed to manage urban water more sustainably. The Government Senators believe that the Commonwealth is already taking a leading role to address recommendation A in managing urban water more sustainably though the COAG Water Reform process, which is achieving many of the goals that are sought, as well as through its development of a Coastal Policy—where it is very actively seeking the cooperation of the States.

Recommendation B advocates a national approach be taken to overcome the jurisdictional barriers to better practice. Government Senators believe that a national approach to overcome jurisdictional barriers to better practice is being taken through the COAG National Competition Policy.

Recommendation C suggests a high priority be given to scientific research into water management coordinated at the national level. Government Senators acknowledge that more research into urban water management would be valuable, but there is no reason that this should not be administered by the States, who are better placed to direct research to local priorities and ecosystems.

Nevertheless, as the Report demonstrates, the Commonwealth has already taken a proactive role in directing national research, through the highly successful Cooperative Research Centre program, and the Natural Heritage Trust, with guaranteed expenditure in the States of some $350 million on water quality issues. As the Committee saw during the inquiry, urban regions around Australia have successfully applied for funding under this program and have used the funds to create many of the country's leading examples of water efficient design.

Recommendation D advocates greater efforts be made to enhance awareness of the environmental issues associated with water use and management. Government Senators believe that the Commonwealth has for some time been leading the process of enhancing awareness of the environmental issues associated with water management.

Recommendation E suggests that water prices should better reflect the significant impacts of current extraction and discharge and any extra revenue generated should be used to improve performance in this area. Government Senators believe that reform in the area of water pricing is being led by the Commonwealth, and there is action on a number of fronts. COAG has already achieved major institutional reforms that are driving more efficient use of both water and funds, and which will increasingly ensure that the cost of water reflects its true value. The Commonwealth will continue to lead the process of establishing water rights, which will underpin the development of water markets, through which the value of water will be established. The suggestion that the revenue generated by higher prices be used to improve performance of water management systems (and particularly their environmental performance), is a matter for the States in their role as managers of the water markets.

Recommendation F urges that Australians be encouraged and assisted to use less water, recycle more effluent and significantly reduce the impact that urban development and its stormwater collection and transport has on natural systems. Government Senators commend this recommendation. The principle of environmental, economic and social sustainability is already accepted and well established, and is the foundation for the COAG reforms. The achievement of sustainability is also the clear policy that underpins the Natural Heritage Trust, and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality.

Recommendation 1 covers a proposal for the development of a National Water Policy (NWP) through a National Water Partnership Framework. The Government Senators do not agree with the recommendation 1 to create a National Water Policy. It is believed it will develop further levels of policy in an already `policy rich' environment and would do nothing to enhance urban water management.

Recommendation 2 advocates a National Water Partnership Framework between all levels of government, research institutions, catchment management authorities and the general public. Government Senators agree with the need for many of the tasks identified in the Chair's recommendation 2. Government Senators do not agree with the recommendation to create a National Water Partnership Framework. There is already a proliferation of institutions managing water, and institutions already exist at the national level to carry out the tasks listed, principally COAG and the Ministerial Councils, while the Regional Organisations of Councils are fulfilling similar roles at the regional level.

Recommendation 3 suggests the setting of targets. Government Senators support many of the ideas in the Chair's recommendation 3, but note that many of these issues are already being addressed by existing initiatives under the National Action Plan on Water Quality and Salinity, the National Water Quality Management Strategy, and to a lesser extent, National Environment Protection Measures. At the same time, Government Senators stress that detailed standard setting is most appropriately done at the state and local level, given the huge variability of conditions across Australia.

Recommendation 4 advocates that the NWP should set standards. Government Senators support many of the ideas in the Chair's recommendation 4. The concept of nationally uniform minimum standards for water efficiency in all new buildings, and buildings undergoing major refurbishment, is also attractive. Our understanding is that a number of States are already headed in this direction.

Recommendation 5 urges better monitoring, reporting and data collection and Recommendation 6 suggests that the Commonwealth examine legislative and regulatory opportunities for reporting on water consumption

The Government Senators agree with the importance of many aspects of the Chair's recommendation 5, but again, stress that they are, or could appropriately be, done by existing institutions, such as the National Land and Water Resources Audit in cooperation with relevant Cooperative Research Centres, and, in the case of the Chair's recommendation 6, COAG.

Recommendation 7 advocates funding and financing better water management and Recommendation 8 considers pricing and financing for better water use and management.

The Government Senators have combined their response to Recommendation 7 & 8. The Commonwealth is already heavily engaged in funding research into reuse and recycling. Examples include:

Development and support for the Co-operative Research Centres program; the feasibility work for the City to Soil/Darling Downs Vision 2000 project in Queensland, which has had strong financial support from the Commonwealth; the strong support for the Virginia Pipeline project in South Australia; the Memorandum of Understanding with Queensland on establishing water quality standards for the Great Barrier Reef; and the National Action Plan on Water Quality and Salinity, which will include major investment in research and on-the-ground actions over the next five years.

The issue of urban water pricing is one of the key elements of the COAG competition policy reforms and the move towards metering and two-tiered tariffs. Consequently, making the price of water more closely reflect its cost is already well advanced.

The issue of a levy, however, on top of full cost recovery is not supported. In relation to many of the points raised here, considerable Commonwealth money is already being applied through the NHT, particularly in catchment protection and rehabilitation, and the repair of natural waterways and wetlands.

Recommendation 9 advocates that the Commonwealth lead by example and develop a strategy for progressively upgrading all Commonwealth buildings for high standards of water efficiency. Government Senators support this recommendation.

Recommendation 10 suggests that the Joint House Department be funded to change all toilet cisterns in Parliament House to dual flush and to fit water efficient shower roses. Government Senators support this recommendation.

Debate adjourned.