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Murray Darling Basin Water Act 2007: MIA.



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Mon, 3rd March 2008 MURRAY DARLING BASIN WATER ACT 2007 - MIA

The Hon John Cobb MP Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Water Security

The Water Act 2007, set to restore the health of the Murray Darling Basin came into force today.

Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Water Security John Cobb said Minister Wong is now flouting the law and her Ministerial responsibilities by; 1) Ignoring the Act - no Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)

2) No Authority - no Basin Plans

3) No Authority - no new Water Trading arrangements

4) No Authority - no measuring and monitoring water data

5) No Authority - No Environmental Water Holder Mr Cobb said he was gravely concerned about the legality of the Minister's actions.

''Either through incompetence or ignorance Minister Wong is now breaching the Water Act 2007, and the only thing reigning in the Murray Darling Basin (MDB) is confusion.

''Minister Wong's announcement of a $50 million water buyback is politics not policy, designed to give the impression in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide that she is doing something.

''Under the Water Act 2007, the Murray Darling Basin Authority has been tasked with devising the Water Plans for the entire Basin. These plans are vital for all of the subsequent operations of the National Plan for Water Security. (see attached)

''The MDBA is tasked with drawing up the plans and is the engine room of the entire Murray Darling Basin Plan. Under the Water Act 2007 without the establishment of the MDBA nothing can legally happen.

''The entire National Plan for Water Security which was supported by the Labor Party is premised on the establishment of the Murray Darling Basin Authority.

''Whilst the Coalition has no problem with the Government amalgamating the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Murray Darling Basin Commission, the Minister has had 100 days to ensure the structures are in place for the commencement of the Water Act.

''The only thing she has done is to cut $45 million from Murray Darling Basin Authority's budget.

''Minister Wong's ignorance of water matters in the MDB is frightening - she has now authorised a $50 million buy back of 20 gigalitres of water.

''At the same time the Victorian Labor Party is going to pipe 110 gigalitres of water from the Basin to use in Melbourne, five times as much water as Minister Wong is planning to buy and put back in the system!!!

''Despite water being a 'number one priority', Minister Wong has met her Victorian counterpart on just two occasions and irrigation communities have largely being ignored.

''The only thing the Labor Party has done is to give Melbourne higher security water than the people of Adelaide despite the fact Melbourne isn't even in the MDB.

''Minister Wong has been captivated by the international media she received on Climate Change and is ignoring the immediate needs of Australian communities in the MDB.''

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Attached: Information on the Water Act 2007

WATER ACT 2007 - GENERAL OUTLINE

The Water Act 2007 gives effect to a number of key elements of the Commonwealth Government's $10.05 billion National Plan for Water Security, announced by the Prime Minister on 25 January 2007. The Act will enable water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin to be managed in the national interest, optimising environmental, economic and social outcomes.

Key elements of the Act which should have come into force today are outlined below.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority

1. The Act establishes an independent Murray-Darling Basin Authority with the functions and powers, including enforcement powers, needed to ensure that Basin water resources are managed in an integrated and sustainable way.

2. Key functions of the Authority include:

- preparing a Basin Plan for adoption by the Minister, including setting sustainable limits on water that can be taken from surface and groundwater systems across the Basin;

- advising the Minister on the accreditation of state water resource plans;

- developing a water rights information service which facilitates water trading across the Murray-Darling Basin;

- measuring and monitoring water resources in the Basin;

- gathering information and undertaking research; and

- engaging the community in the management of the Basin's resources.

3. The Authority will report to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Water Resources and will comprise a full-time Chair and four part-time members. The Authority members must have significant relevant expertise to be eligible for

appointment, for example in fields such as water resource management, hydrology, freshwater ecology, resource economics, irrigated agriculture, public sector governance and financial management.

The Basin Plan

1. The Act requires the Authority to prepare a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin. This plan is referred to as the Basin Plan.

2. The Act establishes mandatory content for the Basin Plan, including:

- limits on the amount of water that can be taken from Basin water resources on a sustainable basis - known as long-term average sustainable diversion limits. These limits will be set for Basin water resources as a whole and for individual water resources;

- identification of risks to Basin water resources, such as climate change, and strategies to manage those risks;

- requirements that a water resource plan will need to comply with if it is to be accredited under this Act;

- an environmental watering plan to optimise environmental outcomes for the Basin by specifying environmental objectives, watering priorities and targets for Basin water resources;

- a water quality and salinity management plan which may include targets; and

- rules about trading of water rights in relation to Basin water resources.

3. The Basin Plan will be complemented through water resource plans prepared by Basin States and provided to the Commonwealth Minister for accreditation. The Authority will provide advice to the Minister on whether to accredit such plans. Water resource plans will only be accredited if they are consistent with the Basin Plan, including the long-term average sustainable diversion limits.

4. The Basin Plan will also play an important role in identifying responsibilities for managing risks associated with reductions in water availability and changes in reliability. Where the Basin Plan specifies a reduction in the long-term average sustainable diversion limit, the Basin Plan will also identify the percentage of that reduction for which the Commonwealth is responsible. This percentage relates to the risk sharing arrangements set out in the Bill, which are modelled on those agreed through the National Water Initiative in June 2004.

5. The Commonwealth Government has made a commitment to respect water sharing arrangements that are provided for in existing water resource plans. This commitment is implemented through the transitional arrangements set out in the Bill.

6. The Basin Plan will be prepared in consultation with Basin States and communities. It is intended that the first Basin Plan will be completed within two years of the Authority being established.

Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder

7. The Act establishes a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder will manage the Commonwealth's environmental water to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin, and outside the Basin where the Commonwealth owns water.

8. The Commonwealth Government's water holdings will include the Commonwealth's share of water savings made through the National Plan for Water Security.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC)

9. The Bill provides the ACCC with a key role in developing and enforcing water charge and water market rules along the lines agreed in the National Water Initiative. The aim of these new functions is to ensure that water markets are able to operate freely across state boundaries and that perverse outcomes from inconsistent water charging arrangements are avoided.

Bureau of Meteorology

10. The Bill gives the Bureau of Meteorology water information functions that are in addition to its existing functions under the Meteorology Act 1955. The Bureau will now be authorised to collect and publish high-quality water information. The publications will include a National Water Account and periodic reports on water resource use and availability. The Bureau will also be empowered to set and implement national standards for water information. A major outcome of the Bureau's work will be increased transparency, confidence and understanding of water information.