Leadership in national water policy
Australia faces major challenges to ensure a sustainable water supply for agriculture, the environment and communities in the face of climate variability, water scarcity and growing demand for water.
Agencies at different levels of government have a role in the management of our water resources. State and territory governments are primarily responsible for managing water within their jurisdictions. The Australian Government provides national coordination and leadership to drive policy and law reforms to manage our water resources sustainably and productively for future generations of Australians.
To drive water reform, we collaborate and consult with state and territory governments, other Australian Government agencies with an interest in water management, scientists, councils and committees of experts, and communities. We also engage in multilateral discussions on international water policy issues, sharing our knowledge and experiences of sustainable water management for all water users and the environment.
Our water policies improve the sustainable management of Australia’s water resources, and increase water security for communities, agriculture, and the environment so they have a reliable supply of water into the future.
The National Water Initiative
The National Water Initiative was developed in 2004 and is Australia’s blueprint for national water reform. It was agreed by the Australian Government and all states and territories, who have made significant progress in implementing actions under the agreement. The Australian Government is committed to renewing the National Water Initiative to drive continued national water reform and ensure that water issues of national significance have fit for purpose principles and policy to guide management.
National Water Commission
The Australian Government has committed to establish a new National Water Commission to drive water reform and future-proof Australia’s water resources. The department will undertake initial scoping work to determine the commission’s roles and responsibilities as a first step in its establishment.
The first National Water Commission was established in 2004, before being abolished in 2014. The commission’s responsibilities included assessing progress by jurisdictions against the objectives of the National Water Initiative and providing advice to Australian governments on national water issues.
Water laws in Australia
Water laws the Australian Government administers include the:
- Water Act 2007 (Cth)
- Water Regulations 2008 (Cth)
- Water Charge Rules 2010 (Cth)
- Water Market Rules 2009 (Cth)
- Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 (Cth)
Collaboration and consultation
National Water Reform Committee
The National Water Reform Committee advises on, oversees, and coordinates the implementation of water policy reforms at the national level. It is made up of senior officials from Australian Government and all state and territory water agencies.
The committee is supported by several sub-committees that advise on a range of technical areas. Sub-committees include:
- Urban Water Reform Committee
- National Groundwater Sub-Committee
- Water Quality Policy Sub-Committee
- Wetlands and Aquatic Ecosystems Sub-Committee.
The Committee on Aboriginal Water Interests also advises the National Water Reform Committee on water matters that impact upon First Nations peoples.
Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests
The Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests advises the National Water Reform Committee (NWRC) on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Water Interests and identifies priority national Aboriginal water reform directions. The committee consists of 12 independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members from across Australia and is supported by government officials on an ongoing basis. The members are not representing their nation but are appointed based on their expertise.
The committee identifies national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander water policy principles to:
- support the development of a national policy framework that accommodates diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples
- strengthen existing approaches that jurisdictions are taking regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander water interests
- inform the development of national reforms to the National Water Initiative (NWI).
The work of the committee has a national focus and is additional to each jurisdiction’s work at the state and local level on furthering water reform with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The committee is integral in influencing national water reform to invest in, formulate policy for and progress Aboriginal Water Interests within their respective jurisdictions.
The committee promotes truth-telling of the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal water rights and interests.
The Committee’s term of appointment has been extended to 31 December 2024.
Water reform often involves difficult decisions to balance limited water resources between different uses and users. Community engagement activities that enable positions to be heard and understood, and transparent communication of key information provide communities with more certainty and build confidence in reform processes.
The Australian Government engages with community stakeholders through local, national, and international forums. Some of the ways communities can be engaged in water reform include providing submissions to water reform inquiries and making a submission to a parliamentary inquiry. Information about parliamentary committees and the public inquiries they are involved in can be found on the Parliament of Australia Committees website. Water matters generally fall under the Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water.
Having access to the latest and highest quality science ensures that Australian governments can make the best decisions in relation to water policy and management. There are a number of agencies and organisations that provide information and advice on water matters.
The Commonwealth Environmental Water Office works in partnership with scientists, water managers and communities across the Murray –Darling Basin to understand and inform environmental water use so that it achieves the best outcomes for our rivers, wetlands and floodplains, as well as the animals, plants and people that depend on them.
The Bureau of Meteorology maintains the Murray–Darling Basin Water Information Portal – in collaboration with the department, the MDBA and the Basin states – to provide a centralised point of information on storages, allocations and trading information for Basin catchments.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducts research to assess Australia’s water resources to help us better manage our river basins and groundwater resources.
The Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences provides independent and strategic advice to the MDBA on the implementation of the Basin Plan 2012.