Department of the Environment

Archived media releases and speeches

Senator the Hon Don Farrell

Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water

Gillard Government extends national water commission

Media release
14 March 2012
DF12/009

Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, Senator Don Farrell today announced that the Government proposes to continue the National Water Commission to oversee the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) national water reform agenda.

Following an independent review by Dr David Rosalky in 2011, to be tabled in Parliament today, the Gillard Government proposes to extend the National Water Commission and its ongoing provision of robust and transparent oversight of COAG water reform through the National Water Initiative.

"When the National Water Commission was established under the former Liberal/National Government, it was for a fixed time frame only," Senator Farrell said.

"But the Gillard Government recognises the importance of the ongoing role of the Commission in overseeing the COAG water reform agenda and that's why we believe it should continue.

"The Government supports the National Water Initiative and Murray Darling Basin reforms and sees the National Water Commission as the best means of providing independent assurance on the progress of all governments."

As required under the National Water Commission Act 2004, the Government commissioned an independent review of the NWC last year with Terms of Reference agreed by COAG.

That review recommended that the NWC continue for the life of the National Water Initiative and that it should be refocused on four key functions: audit, monitoring, assessment and knowledge leadership.

After considering Dr Rosalky's Review, the Government has determined that the NWC should continue for the life of the National Water Initiative with core ongoing functions of audit, monitoring and assessment. This will ensure the NWC can give priority to its valuable role as a credible, specialist and independent agency supporting national water reforms.

As outlined in the Government's response to the Standing Committee on Regional Australia's Report Of drought and flooding rains: Inquiry into the impact of the Guide to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan in Regional Australia, the management of Commonwealth environmental water will be evaluated by the NWC as it assesses the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. This will ensure continued high quality advice to COAG on the effectiveness of its water reforms.

The National Water Commission Act 2004 expires on 30 June 2012 and will require amendment to continue the role of the National Water Commission.

Under the proposed amendments, the National Water Commission would continue to audit and evaluate the effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan's implementation, and monitor and assess water reform and progress with the National Water Initiative.

The NWC was created through a COAG agreement. The Commonwealth is consulting the states on the review and the Government's proposed approach.

Key proposed changes to the ongoing National Water Commission are:

  • Removal of the sunset clause, allowing the Commission to continue for the life of the National Water Initiative, with future five-yearly reviews and evaluation of its role;
  • Focusing the National Water Commission's functions to enable it continue to carry out the core functions of audit, assessment and monitoring into the future. It will continue to undertake assessments of the progress of jurisdictions in implementing the National Water Initiative, but on a triennial rather than biennial basis;
  • Reducing the number of Commissioners from seven to five, due to the NWC's refocused functions and operations;
  • The Raising National Water Standards Program, which has been administered by the NWC, ends this year. However, the new legislation will allow the NWC to administer future programs that may be allocated to it.