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Media Release
The Hon Dr Sharman Stone MP
Federal Member for Murray
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister
for the Environment and Heritage

25 March 1999

WATER REFORM: NOT JUST A DROP IN THE POLITICAL BUCKET


Salinity, rising water tables, eutrophication, blue-green algae outbreaks, deteriorating water quality, turbidity, loss of native fish stocks and declining biodiversity are just a few consequences of Australia's overuse of freshwater supplies, Sharman Stone MP, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage said today.

Sharman Stone said that World Day for Water, celebrated internationally this week, was an important opportunity to raise awareness about the need to conserve and sustainably manage freshwater resources.

Freshwater accounts for just 3% of all available water on the planet.

"Despite the fact that Australia is the oldest and driest continent on earth, we use more water per head of population that almost any other country around the globe," Sharman Stone said.

"Water is the lifeblood of Australian industry, agricultural production and urban development."

"Without irrigation many of the 'food bowls' of Australia, such as the Goulburn-Murray region, would not have flourished. Today, without sustainable irrigation, we would lose thousands of jobs, millions in export earnings and the nation could become an importer, rather than exporter of food and fibre."

"Obviously, sound water management and allocation is the key to sustainable irrigation."

According to the World Resources Institute, Australian water usage patterns indicate that domestic consumption is double the world average, while agricultural use is only slightly above the world average.

"Water conservation is not just an 'on-farm' issue. Urban populations must focus on their water use and waste-water recycling," Sharman Stone said.

Water management is a key part of the Howard Government's environmental agenda, with the Water Reform Framework one of the key planks of the National Competition Policy Payment regime agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 1995.

To ensure all states and territories achieve water management reforms, their performance has been linked to National Competition Policy Payments, which fall due in July 1999 ($800 million) and July 2001($3 billion).

The Water Reform Framework requires that states, have established, for example, environmental flows for stressed streams, strategies for reducing withdrawals in over-allocated systems, appropriate water pricing, water entitlement trading, integrated catchment management planning and ensuring the sustainability of any new water resource developments such as dams.

"Some states already have effective regulatory controls in place which means their water resources can be fairly allocated and the environment safeguarded. Other states, such as Queensland, are still working towards putting in place sustainable, long-term management measures."

"That means in Queensland there is no regulation requiring a landholder or corporation to check on the impact of building new private dams that could have a major, detrimental effect on the environment and those trying to use a share of the water down-stream."

"Sustainably and cooperatively managing our water resources is the key,' Mrs Stone said.

"Carefully developed allocation management agreements, like the Murray-Darling Basin Cap, are essential tools in avoiding water wars between Queensland, News South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory."

"As well, the Cap recognises the need for environmental flow rates that are sufficient to keeps streams and waterways healthy."

In a working partnership with the community, the Howard Government's Natural Heritage Trust will inject $260 million into improving water quality and the ecological health of our river systems through the Rivercare, Murray-Darling 2001 and National Wetlands programs.

"We have a lot of work to do, but time is running out for us to repair and conserve our nation's water resources," Sharman Stone said.

For further information please contact:
Nicole Johnston, Assistant Adviser, 02 6277 2016 or 0419 219 415

Commonwealth of Australia