National Water Commission welcomes renewed reform role
Chair of the National Water Commission (NWC) Chloe Munro has welcomed the decision by the Australian Government that the Commission will continue to operate as an independent and expert national agency to oversee the Council of Australian Governments’ (COAG) national water-reform agenda. The announcement was made by the Parliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water, Senator Don Farrell.
Following an independent review by Dr David Rosalky in 2011, the Gillard government proposes to extend the Commission, which was originally established under the former Coalition government for a fixed time frame only. Senator Farrell said, “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."
According to Ms Munro, “Commissioners welcome the release of [Dr Rosalky’s] report which, after extensive consultation with stakeholders, concluded ‘the role that can be played by a specialist and independent body like the NWC is likely to be even more important in the future’.
“The Commission will undertake audits and assessments of national reform activity, which remain central to ensuring accountability. And it will continue to make these authoritative reports publicly available.
“As Senator Farrell has stated, the Commission’s role will not only focus on reporting to the Council of Australian Governments on the National Water Initiative, it will also encompass auditing the effectiveness of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’s implementation and evaluating the Australian government’s management of environmental water.
“Importantly, Dr Rosalky’s report recognised that ‘the leadership activities performed by the NWC have set a strategic agenda and initiated essential elements of the reform activity’.
“The report also noted the expertise of skilled staff, the proficiency of the organisation and the acceptance by stakeholders of the Commission's independence of jurisdictions.”
Ms Munro continued, “In coming months, Commissioners and senior staff will meet with representatives from all governments around Australia and with key industry and other stakeholders to discuss their water management priorities.
“We see this as a vital input to shaping a future work program that is relevant, targeted and forward looking.
“As the Commission found in its 2011 assessment, reform under the NWI has delivered improved security, efficiency and sustainability in Australia's use of its water resources. However, we also found that the full benefits of the NWI are yet be delivered and that new challenges are emerging.
“Because these issues have national dimensions that require nationwide coordination and enduring resolve, sustainable water management will continue to benefit from a mandate from COAG.
“The Commission looks forward to its renewed role in driving the water agenda beyond 2012.”
The National Water Commission Act 2004 expires on 30 June 2012 and will require amendment to continue the role of the NWC. Under the proposed amendments, the 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 NWC 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 NWC’s functions to enable it to 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.
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