Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012
Operation of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005
Front load washing machine with a water rating label. (Mark Mohell)
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 (the WELS Act) provides for the operation of a national Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme, implemented cooperatively by Australian, state and territory governments.
The scheme aims to reduce the demand for water by requiring that comparative water efficiency information be provided to prospective purchasers of specified water-using products, setting mandatory minimum water efficiency standards in some instances and promoting the adoption of water efficient technologies.
Showers, dishwashers, clothes washing machines, toilet equipment (including urinals) and taps must be registered with the scheme and display a water efficiency rating label when offered for supply. Registration of flow controllers is currently optional. Minimum water efficiency requirements are specified for clothes washing machines and toilets.
From studies undertaken for the department, it is estimated that the current scheme will reduce domestic water use by more than 800 gigalitres between 2005 and 2021.
Joint governments' response to the independent review of the WELS scheme
In 2010, Dr Chris Guest undertook an independent review (the review) of the first five years of operation of the WELS scheme, consistent with the requirements of section 76 of the WELS Act. The review considered the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the scheme and made recommendations for its improvement.
The final report on the Independent Review of the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme was completed on 30 June 2010. The Standing Council on Environment and Water (SCEW) released a response to the review on 30 November 2011. The final report and response are available at <www.environment.gov.au/welsreview>.
The SCEW agreed to recommendations for a strategic plan and a number of changes to the governance, compliance and administration of the WELS scheme. Changes to the operation of the WELS scheme and supporting legislation are required to implement these recommendations.
In February 2012 the department released a consultation paper to canvass views on the proposed changes to the WELS scheme. Stakeholder forums were held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in February 2012. A total of 119 submissions were received by the department. The consultation paper and submissions to this paper are available at <www.waterrating.gov.au/publications/consultation-paper.html>.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Amendment (Scheme Enhancements) Bill 2012 passed through Parliament on 26 June 2012. The Bill came into effect on 23 July 2012. It strengthens the national WELS scheme by imposing new enforcement mechanisms and civil penalties, and by redefining ‘supply’.
Other provisions will commence at a later date to be specified through proclamation. These include provisions allowing the minister to determine more details of the WELS scheme, such as the registration of products. The Bill also implements a recommendation of the independent review that provisions for the voluntary registration of products under the scheme be removed. This change is set to commence from 1 November 2013.
WELS Scheme Strategic Plan 2012-15
As recommended by the review, a three-year strategic plan and budget was developed. The 2012–15 WELS Strategic Plan was released in November 2011 and implemented from 1 July 2012. It provides an action plan, budget, timeline, performance measures and responsibilities for the next three years of the scheme. It also provides for a registration fee structure that is to recover 80per cent of the WELS scheme's operating costs, with governments contributing the remaining 20per cent.
The WELS Scheme Strategic Plan 2012-15 is available at <www.waterrating.gov.au/publications/strategic-plan-2012-15.html>.
Changes to the WELS scheme
On 1 November 2011 a new WELS standard took effect through the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Determination 2011, which replaced the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Determination 2007. The new standard includes all current amendments (1–5) made to Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 6400:2005 Water efficient products–Rating and labelling.
Key changes for WELS products in the new standard are listed below.
- All clothes washing machines registered from 1 November 2011 with a capacity of 5kilograms or more must have a water efficiency star rating of at least three stars. Washing machines with a capacity of less than five kilograms must have a water efficiency star rating of at least two and a half stars. On 1 November 2012, registered machines that do not meet these minimum water efficiency standard requirements will be de-registered.
- Cold-only connect (no heater) washing machines were added to the scheme.
- Combination washer/dryers are to be labelled to show the water use of the dryer function
as well as the wash function.
- WaterMark certification was made a requirement for WELS registration of most WELS products. WaterMark certification is required by state and territory law at the point of installation for most plumbing products intended for use in the reticulated water supply system. It verifies that the products are fit for purpose.
- Introduction of the ability to register and label taps, showers and flow controllers for use in low-pressure environments as well as in the high pressure environment.
Operational aspects of the Act
Since 1 July 2005, 23283 product models have been registered under the scheme. The number of product models registered in 2011-12 was 8219.
During 2011-12 the department's Water Information Line received more than 864 telephone inquiries on its 1800 number regarding the WELS scheme. In addition, WELS scheme staff provided individual assistance to product manufacturers and suppliers, particularly giving guidance on product registrations, through telephone and online enquiries.
Compliance and enforcement
The WELS Act includes a broad range of enforcement mechanisms for managing suspected or confirmed instances of non-compliance. For example, the department may seek an injunction from the Federal Court or issue an infringement notice. The Regulator also has the option to use administrative actions, such as enforceable undertakings as an alternative to prosecution, to help manufacturers, importers and retailers to meet their legal obligations under the WELS Act.
The scheme includes an active compliance inspection program, which involves undertaking Australia wide visits of plumbing products and whitegoods suppliers. In 2011-12 over 176 visits of retail outlets and warehouses were conducted Australia wide.
Enforcement action in 2011-12 included one application to the Federal Court for an order to comply with an enforceable undertaking, and the execution of five warrants.
The Regulator also accepted 17 enforceable undertakings from companies that agreed to improve their business practices and provide awareness training to staff after failing to comply with national water efficiency labelling and standards legislation at their business premises.
All inspections and follow up enforcement actions were undertaken in accordance with the department’s compliance and enforcement policy.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Officials Group
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Officials Group comprises representatives from the states, territories and Commonwealth to consider matters relating to the review of the WELS scheme. It met on two occasions in 2011-12.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Advisory Group
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Advisory Group comprises representatives from the whitegoods, plumbing, consumer, water and retailing sectors. The advisory group provides advice from stakeholders to the Australian, state and territory governments on a range of matters, including the development of the strategic plan for the WELS scheme for the period 2012-15.
The advisory group met four times in 2011-12 to provide advice on strategic and other policy matters to governments on the management of the WELS Scheme.
Nationwide research, which included metropolitan and regional locations, was undertaken in late 2011 to assess awareness of the WELS scheme among household consumers (1134 subjects) and to a lesser extent industry (288 subjects). This research included questions about the channels used to obtain information on water efficient products including internet use and has helped to better target communications.
To reveal trends in awareness of the WELS scheme the findings were compared with two earlier rounds of similar research undertaken in 2008 and 2009. Awareness of the scheme's water rating labels has increased in the period from 2009 to 2011, to 67 per cent for household consumers and 84 per cent for industry.
This section is prepared in accordance with section 75 of the WELS Act. It covers the operation of the WELS Scheme from 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012.
The WELS website is at <www.waterrating.gov.au>.