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Murray-Darling Basin Bill 1993



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House: House of Representatives Portfolio: Primary Industries and Energy

Purpose To give effect to a revised Murray- Darling Basin Agreement between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Background The Murray- Darling Basin (the Basin) covers approximately a million square kilometres. The Basin is Australia's most important agricultural region. Three- quarters of New South Wales is in the Basin, more than half of Victoria, 15% of Queensland and 7% of South Australia. Approximately two million people live in the Basin.

The annual value of the Basin's primary and secondary production is approximately $10 billion, which with value- adding accounts for between 30% and 40% of the total production from Australia's natural resource- based industries. 1 Wool, wheat, sheep, cattle, dairy goods, cotton, rice, oil seed, wine, and fruit and vegetables are produced in the Basin for domestic and overseas markets. Half of Australia's cropland, half the sheep and a quarter of Australia's beef and dairy cattle are in the basin. 2 The basin contains approximately three- quarters of Australia's irrigated farmland (1.2 million hectares) which produces approximately 90% of Australia's irrigated field crops, 80% of pasture and lucerne, 70% of fruit and 25% of vegetables. 3

The management of water resources in Australia is primarily a State or Local Government responsibility. The Commonwealth's role has been mainly limited to providing broad policy direction; providing information and promoting research into water- related issues; performing hydrometeorological services; providing financial assistance for water infrastructure; and coordinating the management of water resources that transcend State boundaries. 4

The objectives of the Murray- Darling Basin Agreement (the Agreement), which is an agreement between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, is to promote and coordinate effective planning and management for the equitable efficient and sustainable use of the water, land and environmental resources of the Basin. The current Agreement is contained in legislation enacted by all parties to the Agreement (at the federal level, the Murray- Darling Basin Act 1983). The Murray- Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MDBMC) and Murray- Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) are the means by which the parties to the Agreement give direction to and implement the objectives of the Agreement. Basically, the MDBMC coordinates planning and management strategies for the sustainable use of the natural resources of the Basin. The MDBC is the executive arm of the MDBMC and provides advice to the MDBMC on planning and management of the Basin's water, land and environment resources; arranges distribution of River Murray waters to the States; administers the Natural Resources Management Strategy and the Salinity and Drainage Strategy; and coordinates river management throughout the Basin.

The MDBC's two major strategies are the Natural Resources Management Strategy and the Salinity and Drainage Strategy. The aims of the Natural Resources Management Strategy (NRMS) include to prevent further degradation of natural resources; promote sustainable practices by the Basins's users; restore degraded resources; and ensure a prosperous future for people who depend on the Basin. NRMS funded projects in 1990- 91 included a series of investigations to determine the significance and options for the control of toxic blue- green algae in the Basin's rivers and community- based projects consisting of mainly of revegetation programs, land rehabilitation projects, drainage projects and catchment management projects. The Salinity and Drainage Strategy aims to reduce the salinity of the River Murray while enabling development, such as the drainage of irrigation areas with high water tables, to proceed. The Salinity and Drainage Strategy provides for a program of jointly- funded salinity mitigation works from which New South Wales and Victoria earn salinity credits. Each State can use its credits to compensate for the impact of other developments such as drainage programs and dam construction which increase river salinity. No development is allowed to proceed unless the State doing the development has enough credits available to cover the impact of that development on downstream water users. It is reported in the MDBC's 1991 Annual Report that in August 1990 the MDBMC approved the development of a third strategy for the Basin, the Nutrient Management Strategy.

This Bill will give legislative effect to a revised Agreement between the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The origin of the revised Agreement is as stated in the Second Reading Speech to this Bill, that is, a review commenced in 1989 by the MDBMC. The purpose of the review was to provide for the evolving role of the MDBMC in Basin water, land and environmental management and for more efficient implementation of MDBMC decisions. It is stated in the Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill that complementary State legislation is also being enacted to give effect to the revised Agreement.

Outline of 1992 Agreement The text of the revised Agreement is set out in the Schedule to this Bill. * Part I of the Agreement sets out the purpose of the Agreement and important definitions. * Part III of the Agreement deals with the MDBMC, including such matters as the MDBMC's composition; functions; and power to give directions to the MDBC. * Part IV of the Agreement deals with the MDBC, including such matters as the MDBC's composition; functions and powers; and appointment of a President, Deputy President, Commissioners and Deputy Commissioner. * Part V of the Agreement deals with the power of the MDBC to carry out investigations, measurements, monitoring of water, land and other environmental resources of the Basin. * Part VI of the Agreement deals with construction, operation and maintenance of works within the Basin. * Part VII of the Agreement deals with financial matters, including the apportionment of costs of executing works; studies; programs; surveys; investigations; establishment and maintenance of systems; administrative costs of the MDBMC and MDBC; compensation for damage by works; and the collection of tolls for the use of weirs and locks. * Part X of the Agreement deals with the distribution of Basin waters amongst the parties to the Agreement. * Schedule C of the Agreement gives legislative effect to the Salinity and Drainage Strategy.

Main Provisions

Clause 5 provides for approval by the Commonwealth of the revised Agreement which is set out in the Schedule to this Bill.

Clause 6 provides for the appointment to the MDBC, by the Governor- General, of two Commissioners and two Deputy Commissioners for the Commonwealth. Appointees may be appointed for a maximum of five years and will be eligible for re- appointment. Appointees may be removed from office by the Governor- General at any time (clause 11).

Clause 12 provides that the functions, powers and duties of the MDBC are as conferred on it under the Agreement.

No Commonwealth law is to be taken to exclude or limit the jurisdiction of a State or Territory court in relation to the performance or exercise of a duty or power of the MDBC (clause 13).

Clause 15 provides for an exemption from Commonwealth, State and Territory taxes, charges and fees in respect of: * any act or thing done by or on behalf of the MDBC; or * any works or any property used or held by a party to the Agreement or a Constructing Authority (see clause 2 of the Agreement) for the purposes of any works.

The Murray- Darling Basin Act 1983 will be repealed by clause 21.

References 1. Murray- Darling Basin Commission, 1991 Annual Report, p. 3. 2. Ibid., at p. 4. 3. Ibid. 4. Industry Commission, Water Resources and Waste Water Disposal, p. 25.

Bills Digest Service 12 May 1993 Parliamentary Research Service

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Commonwealth of Australia 1993.

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Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1993.