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.
While state and territory governments are responsible for managing their water resources, 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 for agriculture, the environment, and communities.
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)
Water Act 2007
The Water Act 2007 (Cth) seeks to:
- return to environmentally sustainable levels of extraction for Murray–Darling Basin water resources
- give effect to relevant international agreements
- promote the use and management of Basin water resources in a way that optimises economic, social and environmental outcomes
- protect, restore and provide for the ecological values of the Basin
- ensure information is available on Australia’s water resources.
Key features of the Water Act include:
- a national framework to manage Basin water resources
- establishment of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA)
- establishment of the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
- requirements for a Murray–Darling Basin Plan prepared by the MDBA
- a regulatory role for the Inspector‑General of Water Compliance
- a role for the Bureau of Meteorology to compile and deliver comprehensive information on Australia’s water resources
- a role for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to develop and enforce water charges and water market rules
- a role for the Productivity Commission to report on the effectiveness of implementation of the Basin Plan and achievement of NWI outcomes.
The Water Act is administered by the Commonwealth water minister. The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment advises the minister in relation to administration of the Act.
The Australian Government has amended the Water Act several times since its commencement, in response to emerging water management challenges and following an independent review conducted in 2014 that assessed its operations and achievements against its objectives.
Water Regulations 2008
The Water Regulations 2008 sit under the Water Act and guide how the provisions of the Water Act will be applied. For example, the regulations specify the water information that certain organisations must give to the Bureau of Meteorology in its water information role under the Water Act, and the time and format in which it must be given.
Water charge and water market rules
The Water Charge Rules provide transparency in charges and costs for customers of monopoly water infrastructure providers across the Basin.
The Water Market Rules ensure irrigators can permanently transform their irrigation right into a statutory water access entitlement.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission monitors regulated charges and compliance and enforces these rules.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards scheme is a partnership between the Australian Government, state and territory governments and industry. The scheme reduces demand for drinking water by informing consumers about the water efficiency of household appliances, fitting and fixtures at the point of sale.
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 provides the legislative authority, supported by subordinate instruments and complementary legislation enacted in all states and territories.
More information about the scheme can be found at waterrating.gov.au.
Collaboration and consultation
The National Federation Reform Council
The National Federation Reform Council provides an opportunity for leaders and treasurers across the Commonwealth and states and territories to focus on common priority issues. Its membership includes the Prime Minister, state premiers and territory chief ministers, treasurers from each jurisdiction and the president of the local government organisation.
The National Federation Reform Council replaced the Council of Australian Governments in 2020. COAG was established in 1992 and played a significant role in initiating and shaping cooperative water reform in Australia.
Agencies at all levels of government have a role in the management of our water resources.
Drawing on expertise through councils and committees
A number of councils and committees work cooperatively to address water issues in Australia. These include:
- the National Water Reform Committee and its supporting committees
- the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council
- the Basin Officials Committee
- the Basin Community Committee
- the Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences
- the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
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 Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture and Water Resources.
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 recently launched the Murray–Darling Basin 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.