The National Water Commission has released its assessment of water reform progress in Australia, calling on governments to stay the distance on their reform commitments.


In its 12 recommendations to COAG, the National Water Commission has urged governments to show renewed leadership, listen to local knowledge and take communities with them as they decide how to balance economic, social and environmental demands.


The Commission has suggested it's time to step up the pace on urban water challenges and deliver more liveable cities. It has also backed much needed investments in science and skills, and proposed incentives to spur action.


Summary of recommendations


  1. The National Water Commission calls on the Council of Australian Governments to recommit to the National Water Initiative as the guiding blueprint for sustainable water management in Australia and to task the Standing Council for Environment and Water to drive these reforms as a priority. COAG leadership is essential to reinvigorate national water reform.

  2. All NWI parties must resolve to stay the course on their reform commitments and give priority to delivering the significant unfinished actions identified by this assessment. This is critical to reap the full benefits of past efforts and to meet the continuing imperative of increasing the productive and efficient use of Australia's water and ensuring the health of river and groundwater systems.

  3. Governments around Australia should engage with their constituents to develop a shared understanding of why water reform is still vital to build resilient communities, productive industries and sustainable environments.

  4. All levels of government should strengthen community involvement in water planning and management, recognising the value of local knowledge and the importance of regional implementation, and review institutional arrangements and capacity to enable effective engagement at the local level.

    A maturing agenda

  6. Australia needs a stronger and more contemporary urban water reform agenda. The Commission recommends that COAG develop a new set of objectives and actions to provide national leadership for urban water management.

  7. Water quality objectives should be more fully integrated into the reform agenda, with better connections between water quality and quantity in planning, management and regulation to achieve improved environmental outcomes. There is also a need for a more coordinated and structured approach to urban water quality regulation at a national level.

  8. Greater coordination of water management and natural resource management initiatives would yield significant gains, for example by better aligning the development, implementation and review of water plans and catchment plans.

  9. The Commission urges states and territories to review their existing mining and petroleum regulatory arrangements to ensure that water resource impacts are addressed explicitly, and that those extractive activities are fully integrated into NWI-consistent planning and management regimes.

  10. It would be prudent at this stage to analyse the nature and materiality of potential changes to water use as a result of climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives. Water management policies may need to be elaborated to operate more effectively in the context of these new initiatives.

    Making it happen

  12. Evidence-based decision making and good stewardship of Australia's water assets rely on robust science and socioeconomic information. The Commission reiterates its call for a national water science strategy, backed by sufficient investment to deliver the required capacity. To support improved water management, the Commission also recommends that water service providers and governments state publicly their commitment to resource adequately and implement fully the National Water Skills Strategy.

  13. Renewed political commitment will require a refreshing of the approach to national reform. The Commission proposes that each of Australia's governments commit to a program of specific actions every three years, based on agreed national priorities and jurisdictional priorities underpinned by the NWI commitments, together with explicit levels of resourcing to implement the program. In the interests of accountability and transparency, the Commission calls on COAG to recommit to oversight of water reform progress by an independent assessment body.

  14. The Commission urges COAG to consider a new approach to incentives to encourage the delivery of nationally significant water reforms.


See the full report: The National Water Initiative: securing Australia's water future.