Between 6 March to 22 March 2023, 9 information sessions were held in 8 locations in the 6 relevant catchments across New South Wales and southern Queensland.
Several common key themes were raised across all the information sessions, as summarised below. This information is published in the interests of transparency, and does not necessarily represent a position of the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water or of the Australian Government.
What we heard
Some attendees provided feedback on aspects of the information session including:
- the short notice period provided for session times and venues
- the nature of the sessions being invite only which resulted in some stakeholders not being on the invite list or unable to attend
- some participants expressed a sentiment that government has not been listening to the community who feel they have been repeating concerns and messages for many years
- other participants expressed their feeling that they had been over-consulted surrounding water in the Murray-Darling Basin and would prefer action to have been taken by now
- the purpose of the information sessions being unclear to some people, and a desire for more extensive consultation and co-design.
We acknowledged that some information sessions had short notice given. The sessions were organised to provide information about the Strategic Water Purchasing Framework released on 22 February 2023 and how this framework sets the direction for the Australian Government’s decision to re-commence water purchasing activity in six basin catchments to bridge the gap to the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs).
The department sought to have a rich conversation and discussion with key water leaders in the community and those who could represent the range of views in each region. We believe this was achieved. Public, town hall style meetings would have limited all voices being heard and prevented a constructive two-way dialogue.
We aimed to have a diversity of relevant stakeholders representing the local community including representation bodies for industry and local councils, with more than 250 invitations and reminders sent out via email.
The same material provided at these sessions as well as a recorded session for anyone who was unable to attend is published on this website.
What we heard
Various themes were raised about the Basin Plan and water recovery. Attendees generally did not support the need for the remaining 49.2 gigalitres per year (GL/y) of water to be recovered through water purchases.
In some instances, there was a view that the volume of water used collectively by users within a catchment is less than the SDL and therefore no further purchasing is required. There were perceived issues with the uncertainty around the stated water recovery volumes and its associated modelling, which is complicated by the unaccredited status of NSW Water Resource Plans (WRPs).
Stakeholders noted the Australian Government’s message that ‘all options are on the table’. However, the sentiment was that water recovery options being proposed were limited only to purchasing and preferred over efficiency measures projects.
Attendees assumed purchasing was decided as the only option due to time constraints and questioned why Basin Plan timeframes couldn’t be extended.
Attendees questioned the purpose of environmental water and what actual outcomes have been achieved. Some stakeholders also asked what type of environmental outcomes were desired from further water recovery proposed to be achieved through purchasing. First Nations water interests were also raised.
The department advised that the Australian Government is committed to delivering the Basin Plan in full, including recovering the 49.2 GL/y to bridge the remaining gap to meet the SDLs agreed by basin governments in 2012.
There are various positions on how previous over recovery should be managed – however, the Basin Plan sets the SDL for each resource unit and requires each catchment to comply with its SDL, which does not enable sharing of credits across catchments.
Water recovery targets were set to achieve environmental outcomes under the Basin Plan.
We use long term diversion limit equivalent (LTDLE) factors (known colloquially as cap factors) to compare how various permanent water entitlements contribute a portion of their volume towards meeting the targets.
The NSW Government has now submitted all remaining outstanding WRPs for assessment which now need to be considered for accreditation. The department is using the best available information which includes the cap factors previously agreed for NSW catchments.
The Strategic Water Purchasing Framework is based on these cap factors and SDLs agreed to by all basin governments in 2018. These factors are reported on the NSW department’s and Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)’s websites. Precise water recovery volumes are subject to change until the MDBA accredits all NSW WRPs.
As well as looking at strategic water purchases to achieve the bridging the gap target, the Australian Government is open to receiving feasible proposals for efficiency projects that can be delivered by June 2024. Time is short to achieve these targets by the June 2024 deadline.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) (or a representative) provided details about the purpose and use of environmental water, including that further water recovery is required to ensure a sustainable Basin for its communities and wildlife, including native fish and birds.
The Australian Government is continuing to consult with First Nations stakeholders and explore options to address First Nations water interests.
What we heard
Some attendees raised concerns about the potential socio-economic impacts further water purchasing may have on communities. Some attendees shared their personal experiences and provided some examples, including population declines and the conclusions of the Sefton 2020 report.
Questions focused on whether socio-economic impacts have been considered and how any impacts of purchasing the remaining 49.2 GL/y would be handled, noting that the water purchasing principles outlined in the Strategic Water Purchasing Framework do not include socio‑economic considerations.
Socio-economic impacts were considered in the development of the Basin Plan and agreed by basin governments, including aspects relating to the water recovery volumes required to bridge the gap to meet the SDLs. This includes the 2,075 GL/y gap in which 49.2 GL/y remains to be recovered.
The MDBA monitors the socio-economic conditions across the Basin and will continue to do so through the Basin Condition Monitoring Program, a $7.5m Australian Government investment in better monitoring in response the Sefton 2020 report.
The department has and will continue to take into account a range of evidence and information relating to the design and development of programs and will continue to advise government accordingly.
What we heard
Stakeholders posed several specific questions regarding the tender that included:
- What happens if the tender program is oversubscribed or undersubscribed?
- Is further water purchasing to be expected for other water recovery targets?
- Why is the Australian Government proceeding with purchasing water within NSW catchments when their WRPs have yet to be accredited?
- Why is the ACT being given special treatment?
It was also suggested that the open period of the tender is too short and should be extended.
Due to probity requirements to meet the Commonwealth Procurement Rules, the department is limited in how it responds to some tender questions. However, the following information was provided at the sessions and also published in the Strategic Water Purchasing Framework and on this website:
- After the tender closes and the evaluation of tender responses is completed, and offers made and contracts executed, we will be better placed to understand whether the tender has been successful in meeting the SDLs targets.
- If the tender is undersubscribed, future actions and approaches will be a matter for further government decision.
- The department only has authority to purchase water to achieve the SDLs in the 6 catchments identified in NSW and southern Qld.
- The Strategic Water Purchasing Framework and tender process only relates to bridging the remaining gap of 49.2 GL/y to meet the SDLs, not the 450 GL target nor any potential shortfalls of the 605 GL attributed to the SDLAM projects.
- The Ministerial Council 29 communique noted that as a matter of priority, the Commonwealth will work with relevant communities and Basin states on options to bridge the remaining gap in water recovery, including through strategic purchase.
- There is only one major water owner in the ACT which runs the urban utility, therefore water is held and owned by a government entity. This means that they are not able to participate in an open tender. As the water utility is a retail operator, there is also not the same degree of individual ‘water right holders’ as there are in other catchments.