The Environmental Defenders Office is pleased to be a member of the Stakeholder Working Group for the National Water Reform Inquiry being undertaken by the Productivity Commission. We accordingly welcome the opportunity to provide high-level comments regarding water reform in Australia, and to make recommendations to inform the next iteration of the National Water Initiative (NWI).

Our comments are informed by our expertise as water and environmental lawyers advising a diverse range of clients including Aboriginal people, irrigators, floodplain graziers, conservation groups and community groups across all Australian jurisdictions. This expertise is bolstered by our experience litigating in relation to alleged and proven breaches of laws regulating or otherwise affecting the use1. As such we do not have an applied understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of applicable legislation, but of the governance arrangements that are required to ensure that these laws are actually enforceable.

As the EDO values a collaborative approach to water governance, we have also sought input from a range of external stakeholders and colleagues including Aboriginal water experts, farmers, scientists and economists. Their comments have helped to improve our understanding of an inherently complex and often fraught area of law and policy, and have arguably strengthened the quality of our analysis and recommendations.

This submission addresses the following 10 areas:

  1. Measurement, water accounting and auditing
  2. Compliance and enforcement
  3. Access to information
  4. Sustainable levels of extraction
  5. Climate change
  6. Aboriginal water rights
  7. Water markets
  8. Groundwater
  9. Collaborative governance
  10. Water quality