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Australia’s water security part 3: reform and governance

Irrigation Water usage Water governance Water Australia

Water management in Australia is considered to be amongst the best in the world. Over the past decade, the National Water Initiative (NWI) has guided water reform across all jurisdictions and has led to increased efficiency and resilience in the water sector. The reform has supported the development of a water sector that now gains value from water use and has begun to incorporate social and environmental values in its economic mechanisms.

Reform came on the back of ongoing protracted droughts, increasing demand across user groups and variable conditions produced by climate change. The fluidity of factors affecting the water sector, have produced an environment in need of continual reform, evaluation and improvement. With drought no longer threatening water supplies in major urban and irrigation centres and reform entering its second decade, however, we have reached a period of transition and shifting political priorities. The abolition of the National Water Commission, the removal of the Council of Australian Government’s (COAG) Standing Council on the Environment and Water, and a tighter fiscal position across all governments, has left the process of reform with limited independent oversight. Jurisdictions are now at risk of stalling or backsliding on progress; it is essential that we avoid the reprioritisation of NWI objectives at a time when management should be building on achievements and enhancing markets and access to user groups.

Key points

  • Water management and governance in Australia is complex and lacks uniformity across jurisdictions.
  • Since the introduction of the National Water Initiative (NWI) in 2004, all states and territories have made significant progress on water reform.
  • Water reform in Australia has reached a tipping point, however, and fiscal tightening in all jurisdictions risks backsliding on that progress.
  • Groundwater management requires greater commitment by governments, to align with surface water management.
  • Reducing over-regulation and ensuring equitable licensing arrangements for all user groups, is necessary to enhance governance and environmental outcomes.
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