This report assesses the progress of the Australian, State and Territory governments since 2017 towards achieving the objectives and outcomes of the National Water Initiative (NWI). It also provides practical advice to governments on future directions for national water reform through renewal of the NWI.
Overall, the NWI has served Australia well, and reforms have been widely supported by the water sector, industry and stakeholders. But for reform to continue to be effective, it needs to be adaptive — reflecting lessons learnt from experience, evolving as the broader policy context changes and proactively dealing with anticipated challenges.
Looking to the future, water resource management and water service provision will have to respond to these changing demands within the context of a growing population and climate change. Capital city populations are projected to increase by 10 million people by 2050. And climate projections point to hotter, drier and more extreme weather — particularly in southern Australia. This will likely mean material reductions in water availability for most of the country and an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts and floods across the nation. And it will accelerate change in irrigated agricultural production. The droughts and water scarcity experienced during the past 20 years are likely to be a harbinger of things to come.
The reality is that Australians will need to become even more adept at dealing with drought, and communities, industries and the environment will have to adapt to lower water availability and more uncertainty. Water managers will need to be forward-looking, adaptive and agile in how they manage water resources to meet the community’s changing needs.