Tide of budget cuts could take National Water Commission
There is speculation this week that the Federal Government will look to axe a major water policy advisory body in the effort to cut costs.
Simon Birmingham, the parliamentary secretary to the Environment Minister has confirmed that the axing of the National Water Commission is an option.
The commission has stood for over a decade as an independent authority to advise the Commonwealth on water policy, keeping checks on programs such as the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
In an interview with the ABC on Monday, Mr Birmingham claimed the future was unclear.
“The National Water Commission does some very valuable work, what's important for us is to look at what that work is, how it can best be done and best be undertaken in the context of our policy promises as well as of course, ensuring that we have good environment and water policy advice,” he said.
“Of course, any use of consultants needs to be done as carefully as possible and be as limited as possible to ensure that we're not wasting taxpayer dollars and that's what I would expect any and every agency to do now and well into the future.”
The independent commission has survived a number of fairly large cuts in previous budgets, but reports say the next will be fatal.
Dr Richard Davies from the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists said the most recent reviews found the commission had been successful.
“[The review] came to the conclusion - and I might say that this was in a period when the Government was looking to save money - it came to the conclusion that the commission has done an outstanding job and also needs to continue its functions,” he said.
“It's pretty clear that there's still work to be done, and in fact new challenges have arisen of course in the area of climate change.”
National Irrigators' Council's chief executive Tom Chesson says it would be possible to cut the group’s funding without impacting the roll-out of the Basin Plan.
Chesson says he has heard strong rumours circulating about a likely cut, and believes that irrigators would not “lose sleep over it” if the Commission was dismantled.
Australian Conservation Foundation spokesperson Jonathan La Nauze has told reporters that the commission must be kept alive to continue driving water reform.
“There's no equivalent body at a national level that can provide the kind of leadership and accountability that the National Water Commission has over the past decade,” Mr La Nauze said.
“The importance of the Commission is the independence of its commissioners, their long-term tenure.
“They can provide clear advice, without fear or favour on the progress, not only of the Federal Government, but also of all the state governments,” he said.