Public call for submissions - issues paper, September 2013

Implementing the National Water Initiative:

2014 assessment of water reform progress in Australia

The National Water Commission invited interested organisations and people to make a written submission to our National water reform assessment: 2014, a triennial assessment of water reform progress under the National Water Initiative (NWI). See the submission process.

The issues paper provides background to the assessment and identifies matters on which we sought information and comment. See key issues for comment

Each submission, except for any supplied in confidence, are published below, and will remain there as a public record.

In October 2013, the Commission also issued an Urban water futures discussion paper which some of the submissions listed below respond to. Responses including urban water futures discussion are marked *.



Under the National Water Commission Act 2004 (NWC Act), the Commission conducts regular assessments of progress by all governments in achieving the objectives and outcomes of the NWI. The Commission has already undertaken three biennial assessments — in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

Since the 2011 assessment, important developments have had implications for the way water is managed in Australia. These include: the commencement of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan; increased focus on whole-of-water-cycle management in urban environments; the expansion of water use associated with mining and coal seam gas extraction; and renewed consideration of the potential for large-scale development of water resources for agriculture in northern Australia.

Our next assessment will be presented in 2014. This will present a comprehensive view of progress in the implementation of the NWI, and make recommendations to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on actions that governments might take to better achieve national water reform objectives and outcomes.

The Commission will submit its assessment report to the Prime Minister, and state and territory premiers and chief ministers, in the second half of 2014. The report will be publicly released in accordance with the requirements of the NWC Act.

National Water Initiative

The 2004 Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Water Initiative (NWI) is the Council of Australian Government's (COAG's) principal water policy agreement.

The NWI is a shared commitment by governments to increase the efficiency and sustainability of Australia's water use.

The initiative set out to achieve a nationally compatible market, regulatory and planning based system—one that manages surface and groundwater resources for rural and urban use, and optimises economic, social and environmental outcomes.

view a text description of this image

Text description of the graph outlining the NWI.

Further information on the NWI.

Key issues for comment

The 2014 National Water Reform Assessment will provide independent, evidence-based assurance to the COAG, the Australian Government, and the broader community on whether the water reforms articulated in the NWI, along with any other subsequent reforms adopted by the COAG, are achieving their intended outcomes. The assessment will include:

  1. an assessment of progress in jurisdictional implementation of NWI actions, along with any subsequent water reform actions agreed to by COAG
  2. an assessment of the impact of the NWI and related water reform efforts against the NWI objective of optimising economic, social and environmental outcomes
  3. a review of emerging or changing water management challenges with recommendations on future reform priorities.

In its assessment the Commission will consider the following questions and specifically invites comment on these issues:

  • To what extent has the National Water Initiative (NWI) and subsequent reforms enabled water use to support Australia's economic development, our communities and our environment?

  • In 2014, as we reach the ten year anniversary of the NWI, does the agreement still provide enduring principles to guide future water reform in Australia?

  • Do any emerging issues and challenges indicate a need to adjust the NWI in the future?

  • What are the remaining barriers to implementing agreed water reforms and how can they be overcome?

  • Are there more efficient or effective ways, including industry and private sector participation, of achieving the intended water reform outcomes?

  • Are there opportunities to better manage the interface of water policy with other policy realms such as energy and resources, agriculture, and urban planning?

You may also wish to comment to what extent the NWI and subsequent reforms have contributed to achieving the following intended outcomes.

1. Water supports the economy

1.1. Rights of access are secure and provide investment confidence

If this outcome was achieved, we would expect to see water supply security and investment confidence that supports economic and social outcomes. This would mean:

  • entitlements and allocations for water assets are treated in the same way as other secure asset classes, with the expectation that these property rights will not be arbitrarily abridged or removed.
  • water plans have clearly defined entitlements and allocations.
  • compliance activity is in place to ensure asset security.
  • users have confidence in their water supply and are able to plan accordingly.
  • water entitlements are accepted as a financial asset by institutions and individuals (including banks, superannuation funds and private investors).
  • financial institutions are willing to lend against entitlements, and ownership is clear and transferable
  • there is sufficient incentive to reward investment, particularly in research and development and infrastructure.

1.2 Water use is economically efficient

If this outcome was achieved, we would expect to see water being used efficiently at all levels of use and throughout the system. This would mean:

  • users receive clear price signals that encourage innovation and diversification of supply and provide consumers with an informed choice about the water products
  • water businesses are financially sustainable and economic regulation provides incentives for innovation and affordability
  • water resource development is economically sustainable and able to occur where net benefits (economic, social and environmental) exceed net costs
  • water goes to highest economic value through open markets that are not distorted by barriers to trading or unnecessary regulatory constraints
  • where water is scarce, improved technical water use efficiency is encouraged through improved technology, physical infrastructure, innovation and R&D.

2. Water supports people and communities

2.1 Water supports community wellbeing

If this outcome was achieved, we would expect that water would be available for the things that people and communities want the most. This would mean:

  • communities identify uses of water that are most important to them, what their short and long-term goals are and what they might change.
  • communities should be able to participate in water management decisions so that outcomes reflect their needs and aspirations.
  • all water planning processes clearly consider the rights and aspirations of, and engage with, Indigenous Australians.
  • urban water planning and management supports liveability outcomes.
  • clear processes for allocating water (whether through planning arrangements or other means) and opportunities for people to participate in this process, and make their priorities and aspirations known.
  • water is provided to meet community priorities and social outcomes are monitored, evaluated and reported.

2.2 Water quality is safe for its intended use

If this outcome were achieved, we would expect to see water use that is fit for purpose, that is, of a quality that at least matches its intended use. This would mean:

  • risks to public health and the environment are adequately managed
  • review mechanisms, mitigation strategies and administrative integration across all relevant levels of government are provided
  • innovation in supply diversification and consideration of alternative supplies is encouraged
  • users can access water that is fit for purpose and appropriately priced

3. Water supports a healthy environment

3.1. Environmental condition of water systems is maintained or improved

To achieve this outcome we would expect the environmental condition of water systems, along with the benefits we obtain from related ecosystems to be maintained or improved. This would mean:

  • a practical understanding of the environmental condition of the water system(s) and associated ecosystem services.
  • identification of water systems and their environmental conditions that require protection/maintenance or improvement.
  • identification of system requirements for different community values and priorities.
  • trade off decisions between social, environmental and economic values are transparent.
  • environmental aspects of water plans are implemented and improve  the environment.

3.2. Future water options aren't compromised by today's decisions

To achieve this outcome water resources need to be managed over the long term in a manner that ensures quality and quantity is secure for future generations. This would mean:

  • clearly defining sustainable levels of extraction for water systems and publicly acknowledging and addressing situations where over use and over allocation exists.
  • in water systems where use and allocation is below the sustainable level of extraction, NWI compliant arrangements are in place to ensure any growth in use does not exceed those agreed levels.
  • in over allocated or over used systems, pathways are in place to return water use to sustainable levels of extraction.
  • long-term water planning is in place to predict and prepare for likely future demand and supply scenarios.

Submission process

Submissions are invited to respond to the issues outlined in this paper. They do not need to be limited to any specific points, or address all of the points under each section. Comments on other aspects of water policy, management and use are also welcome.

The format of submissions may range from a short letter outlining your views on a particular topic to a much more substantial document covering a range of issues. Where possible, you should provide evidence, such as relevant data and documentation, to support your views.

All submissions should be provided as public documents that can be placed on the Commission's website. Under certain circumstances the Commission can accept sensitive material in confidence, for example, if it was of a personal or commercial nature, and publishing the material would be potentially damaging. You are encouraged to contact the Commission for further information and advice before submitting such material. Material supplied in confidence should be provided under separate cover and clearly marked 'IN CONFIDENCE'. Copyright of submissions sent to the Commission resides with the author(s), not with the Commission.

How to submit

Each submission should be accompanied by a submission cover sheet. For submissions received from individuals, the authors name(s) will be included but all other personal details (e.g. home and email address, telephone and fax number) will be removed before publication on the website.

The Commission prefers to receive submissions as a Word (.doc) file attachment to an email. PDF files are acceptable. To ensure your PDF is electronically readable and accessible, the Commission recommends that it is derived from word processing software (e.g. Microsoft Word) and not from a scanner, fax or photocopying machine.

Track changes, editing marks, hidden text and internal links should be removed from submissions before sending to the Commission. To ensure hyperlinks work in your submission, the Commission recommends that you type the full web address (e.g.

Submissions sent by email must not exceed 20 megabytes in size. If your document is larger than this, please contact the Commission to organise another delivery method.

Submissions and related enquiries should be emailed to: Submissions should use the phrase '2014 TA Submission' in the subject line of the email.

The closing date for submissions was 15 November 2013

Documents for download

2014 Triennial Assessment public submissions issues paper (DOCX 481.3 KB) (PDF 461.6 KB)

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