The key elements of Commonwealth water legislation in Australia are:
Other water legislation
- Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005
- Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
Water Act 2007
The Water Act 2007 commenced on 3 March 2008 and implemented key reforms for water management in Australia.
The key features of the Act are:
- The Act establishes the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) with the functions and powers, including enforcement powers, needed to ensure that Basin water resources are managed in an integrated and sustainable way.
- The Act requires the MDBA to prepare the Basin Plan - a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.
- The Act establishes a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to manage the Commonwealth's environmental water to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin, and outside the Basin where the Commonwealth owns water.
- The Act provides the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with a key role in developing and enforcing water charge and water market rules along the lines agreed in the National Water Initiative.
- The Act gives the Bureau of Meteorology water information functions that are in addition to its existing functions under the Meteorology Act 1955.
Water Amendment Act 2008
In December 2008 the Water Amendment Act 2008 amended the Water Act 2007.
The key features of the Water Amendment Act 2008 are:
- The functions of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission were transferred to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority. There is now a single body responsible for overseeing water resource planning in the Murray-Darling Basin.
- The role of the ACCC was strengthened by providing for the water charge rules and the water market rules to apply to all water service providers and transactions.
- The current powers of the ACCC were extended to determine or accredit determination arrangements for all regulated non-urban water charges.
- It enabled the Basin Plan to provide arrangements for meeting critical human water needs.
The Water Amendment Act 2008 was based on a combination of Commonwealth constitutional powers and a referral of certain powers from the Basin States to the Commonwealth. The Act passed through the Commonwealth parliament following the passage of referring legislation through the Basin states - Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
As part of the Government's collaborative approach to water management, the Water Amendment Act 2008 was achieved after negotiating two very important intergovernmental agreements:
- March 2008: the Memorandum of Understanding on Murray-Darling Basin Reform was signed by the Prime Minister and the Premiers of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland, and the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory.
- July 2008: An Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform was signed by First Ministers, which built on the principles of the Memorandum of Understanding. In the Intergovernmental Agreement, Governments committed to a new culture and practice of Basin-wide management and planning, through new governance structures and partnerships.
Regulations can be made to prescribe certain matters as provided for under the Water Act 2007. On 19 June 2008 the Federal Executive Council approved the Water Regulations 2008, also referred to as the Principal Regulations. Any regulations made under the Act after the principal regulations will be Water Amendment Regulations.
Regulations under the Act that have been made on matters to date include:
Principal regulations and amendment regulations dealing with:
- The process the Minister must follow for making water market and water charge rules
- Matters relating to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement
- Amendments to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement
- The definition of the boundary of the Murray-Darling Basin
- Murray-Darling Basin Authority special powers
- and water information.
- Water Amendment Regulations 2010 to enhance the coverage of the water charge rules under the Act.
Two sets of Water Amendments Regulations were made in 2012
Water Amendment Regulation 2012 (No.1)
- enables two variations made to the Snowy Hydro Licence to have precedence over the Basin Plan
- enables specified Victorian water resource plans to continue to have effect until 30 June 2019 as transitional water resource plans
- refines the obligations on water information holders and the subcategories of water information that must be provided to the Bureau of Meteorology.
For more information see Water Amendment Regulation 2012 (No.1)
Water Amendment Regulation 2012 (No.2)
- excludes some water resources from the definition of Basin water resources and from water resource planning areas under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan
- changes the boundary of the 'Hundreds of Livingston and Carcuma overlap area' to ensure consistency with the new exclusions made by this regulation
- sets the 28 October 2011 as the date from which the Commonwealth accepts certain obligations under the risk assignment framework in relation to Queensland
- enables more Victorian water resource plans to continue in effect until 30 June 2019, as transitional water resource plans
For more information see Water Amendment Regulations 2012 (No.2)
- enables Victorian and South Australian plans to have extended transitional water resource plan recognition
- delays the requirement to have an accredited or adopted water resource plan for specified water resource plan areas
- provides for water information requirements to support the National Groundwater Information System (NGIS)
- provides for the Director of Meteorology to specify the format in which data providers give their water information to the Bureau of Meteorology
Water charge and water market rules
The Water Act 2007 provides for water charge and water market rules to be made to regulate the water market and water charges across the Murray-Darling Basin. The Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities is required to seek, and have regard to, advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in making, amending or revoking the water charge and market rules. The ACCC is also responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the rules once they have been made.
For more information about rules that have been made under the Water Act visit our Water charge and water market rules page.
Water management before the Water Act 2007
For more than a century our greatest system of rivers and aquifers, the Murray-Darling Basin, was managed between five states and territories, each of which has had competing interests.
The River Murray Waters Agreement was signed in 1914 by New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and established the River Murray Commission (which later became the Murray-Darling Basin Commission). The resulting governance model required the agreement of all Basin jurisdictions before anything could be done by the Commission.
These arrangements have remained largely unchanged until the commencement of the Water Act, hindering reform and encouraging decision making that was not in the interest of the Basin as a whole.
The over allocation of water resources in the Basin today, combined with record low inflows and the onset of climate change, were not envisaged at the time the River Murray Waters Agreement was signed.
The Water Act provides the capacity to meet the future challenges facing water management in the Murray-Darling Basin, one of the nations great assets.
Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005
The Australian Government's Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 , provides the legal framework for the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme.
The Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Regulations 2005, the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Determination 2011 and the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Declaration 2005 are also part of the WELS legislative framework.
In summary the Australian Government's WELS legislation covers:
- The establishment of the WELS Regulator to administer the scheme.
- Authority for the Australian Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities to specify the products to be covered by the WELS scheme, the standards they must meet and other requirements.
- Requirements for the registration and labelling of WELS products, including setting the fee to register a product
- Monitoring and enforcement measures, including the appointment of WELS inspectors.
- Procedures for issuing and paying penalty infringement notices as an alternative to prosecution for offences.
For more information visit the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme website
For further information on the Water Act 2007 please email WaterPlanEnquiries@environment.gov.au or call 1800 218 478.