Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012

Bills Digest no. 57 2012–13

PDF version  [697KB]

WARNING: This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

Bill McCormick,
Science Technology, Environment and Resources Section
28 November 2012

Contents
Purpose
Background
Financial implications
Human Rights Statement of Compatibility
Key provisions
Concluding comments

Date introduced:  31 October 2012
House:  House of Representatives
Portfolio:  Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities
Commencement:  Sections 1 to 3 on Royal Assent; Schedule 1 the later of the start of the day the Act receives Royal Assent and the start of the day the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Act 2012 receives Royal Assent.[1]

Links: The links to the Bill, its Explanatory Memorandum and second reading can be found on the Bill's home page, or through http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Bills_Legislation. When Bills have been passed and have received Royal Assent, they become Acts, which can be found at the ComLaw website at http://www.comlaw.gov.au/.

Purpose

The Bill amends the Water Act 2007 (the Water Act) to establish an Environment Special Account to fund projects that aim to enhance the environmental outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (the Basin Plan) by protecting and restoring environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB) and protecting water dependent biodiversity of the MDB. The projects will include those that contribute to easing or removing constraints to the delivery of environmental water to such environmental assets and to increasing the available environmental water in the MDB by up to 450 Gigalitres(GL).[2]

Background

In order to determine the Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take (ESLT) for the draft Basin Plan, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) carried out modelling to predict the potential environmental outcomes of three options, representing the recovery of 2400, 2800 and 3200 Gigalitres/year (GL/y) of environmental water.

The modelling and associated assessments showed that 2400 GL/y was insufficient to achieve a number of key environmental objectives for the River Murray downstream of the Murrumbidgee junction (including the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth); while 3200 GL/y delivered few additional environmental benefits relative to the 2800 GL/y option.[3]

While the 2800 GL/y option (slightly greater that than the 2750 GL/y target in the draft Basin Plan) would achieve environmental objectives for in-stream processes, streamside vegetation, low-level wetlands, and low-level floodplain environments it would deliver minimal benefits to higher level floodplains in the southern Basin. The 3200 GL/y option made no significant improvement, compared to the 2800 GL/y option, for mid- and high-level floodplain environments in the southern Basin because river operating constraints limited the ability to deliver sufficiently high flows to inundate mid- to high-elevation floodplains regardless of the Sustainable Diversion Limit (SDL) volume.[4]

The MDB Ministerial Council requested that the MDBA carry out further modelling of environmental water recovery scenarios in the MDB for the preparation of the Basin Plan which involved relaxing constraints on the delivery of environmental water in southern connected system of the MDB for environmental recovery scenarios of 2800 GL/y and 3200 GL/y.[5] The changes to these constraints are shown in Table E.1.

The modelling indicated that with the relaxation of the above constraints to permit increased river flow, there may be environmental benefits for both 2800 GL/y and 3200 GL/y reductions in diversion limits.

The 2800 GL scenario was predicted to achieve 11 of the 18 flow indicators for the River Murray but the environmental flows were not increased sufficiently to achieve additional flow indicator targets for mid-to high-level floodplains.[6]

The additional 400 GL of environmental flows under the 3200 GL relaxed constraints scenario were predicted to result in many more flow indicators being met for the River Murray plus the capacity to water mid-to high-level parts of the floodplain in the Lower Murray. The environmental benefits of this scenario were forecast to be:

  • flow peak and duration for inundation events in the southern Basin were further increased
  • 17 of the 18 ‘active management’ flow indicator targets in the River Murray were achieved
  • several high-flow targets at four River Murray hydrologic indicator sites were achieved, indicating the potential for improved environmental outcomes for the mid- to high-level floodplain and colonial waterbird breeding:

- 35 000 ML/d for 30 days at Barmah–Millewa Forest
- 40 000 ML/d for 60 days at Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest
- 20 000 ML/d for 150 days at Gunbower–Koondrook–Perricoota Forest
- 70 000 ML/d for 42 days at Hattah Lakes and
- 80 000 ML/d for 30 days at Riverland–Chowilla Floodplain.

  • limited improvement in achievement of Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth flow and salinity indicators compared to the benefits of additional environmental water recovery alone as represented in the BP-3200 scenario.[7]

Table E.1: Existing constraints applied in the models or demands for the proposed Basin Plan scenarios (MDBA, 2012b) and their increased values for the relaxed constraints scenarios.

 

Region

 

Location

Existing constraint

(ML/d)

Relaxed constraint in model (ML/d)

 

Murray

Hume to Yarrawonga

25 000

40 000

Downstream of Yarrawonga

22 0001

40 000

 

 

 

 

Lower Darling

Weir 32/Increase Menindee outlet capacity

 

9300

 

18 000

Darling Anabranch

Water flows into the

anabranch at flows over

9300 ML/d (no

regulator)

Regulator added and

closed above 9300 ML/d when water is supplied from Menindee to meet

environmental needs in the

Murray

 

Murrumbidgee

Gundagai

30 000

50 000

Balranald

90002

13 000

 

Goulburn

Seymour

12 000

15 000

McCoy’s Bridge

20 0002

40 000

1.         Constraint was already relaxed to 40 000 ML/d in previous Basin Plan modelling (MDBA, 2012b); however, the Hume to Yarrawonga constraint of 25 000 ML/d was in place meaning the 40 000 ML/d limit could not be effectively utilised.
2.         Constraint is applied to tributary demands designed to contribute to achievement of downstream environmental water events in the River Murray.

Source: MDBA, Hydrologic modelling of the relaxation of operational constraints in the southern connected system: methods and results, op. cit., p. vi.

Note that the 3200 GL relaxed constraints scenario resulted in the following impacts on the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth:

Water levels, salinity, mouth openness and barrage releases were all improved compared to the recovery of 2800 GL. Changes to flow delivery sequences under the relaxed constraints scenarios have altered the timing of flow reaching the site in the model resulting in both positive and negative changes compared to scenarios with constraints. This demonstrates that outcomes at the site are sensitive to upstream watering decisions.[8]

Basis of policy commitment

With the release of this MDBA modelling, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill announced South Australian scientific analysis of the modelling that indicated:

… recovering 3200 GL of water and relaxing key constraints results in considerable environmental benefits for the River Murray compared to the current draft Basin Plan 2750 GL scenario, not only in South Australia but also in Victoria and New South Wales.[9]

The Premier said that the South Australian government would campaign for at least 3200 GL to be returned to the River Murray under the Basin Plan, though he noted that the target did not fully address the effects of over allocation.[10]

On 26 October 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water Population and Communities (SEWPaC), Tony Burke, announced that 3200 GL of water would be returned to the MDB. This would be achieved through the return of an additional 450 GL on top of the 2750 GL set as the target for water to be returned to the environment under the draft Basin Plan. Water recovery projects would be funded from an additional $1.77 billion over the ten year period, 2014–15 through 2023–24, with $200 million to be used to remove key operating constraints that currently limit the amount of environmental water that can be delivered through the river system.[11] The Australian Government resolved that this would be done ‘through projects to ensure there is no social and economic downside for communities’.[12] Legislation to establish a special account, into which advanced appropriations of this $1.77 billion in future funds would be deposited over the ten year period, was to be introduced into Parliament this year.[13]

While South Australia supported this initiative, the other MDB states opposed it:

NSW Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner accused federal Labor of trying to ‘buy off' the SA government. Queensland Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps said: ‘The Queensland government is not willing to participate in a negotiation process if there will be an increased impact on Queensland communities’.[14]

Victorian Water Minister Peter Walsh said this could cause flooding and his state would not accept 3200 gigalitres being returned to the rivers. ‘Today's stunt is outside the agreed process that was set to finalise a consensus Murray-Darling basin plan’, he said.[15]

On 22 November 2012 the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke, signed the final Basin Plan. The Plan stated that:

… the easing or removal of constraints and the addition of 450 GL per year of environmental water above the 2750 GL benchmark conditions of development, under the Commonwealth’s program, allow the enhanced environmental outcomes as set out in Schedule 5 to be pursued as compared to the benchmark environmental outcomes.[16]

The Basin Plan was tabled in Parliament on 26 November 2012.[17] Michael McCormack moved a disallowance motion in the House of Representatives and Senator Sarah Hanson-Young moved a disallowance motion in the Senate.[18]

Committee consideration

The Bill has been referred to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia for inquiry. Submissions were to be made to the Committee by 15 November 2012.[19]

The Bill was also referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications for inquiry. The Committee reported on 19 November 2012 and the majority of the Committee recommended that the Bill be passed, with two amendments.[20]

The first recommended amendment would affect proposed paragraph 86AA(3)(b) of the Water Act, to be inserted by item 2 of Schedule 1 to the Bill. Subsection 86AA(3) would provide that the objects of new Part 2AA of the Water Act (as set out in proposed subsection 86AA(1)) would be achieved by:

(a)    easing or removing constraints on the capacity to deliver environmental water to the environmental assets of the MDB and

(b)   increasing the volume of the MDB water resources that is available for environmental use by up to 450 GL.

The Committee agreed with concerns raised in some submissions about the italicised words in paragraph 86AA(3)(b), namely that

… the use of this wording does not require or guarantee that an additional 450 GL will be returned to the river system. For this reason, it was suggested that proposed subsection 86AA(3) be strengthened.[21]

Accordingly, the Committee recommended that ‘up to’ be removed from proposed paragraph 86AA(3)(b), so that it would provide that the objects of proposed Part 2AA are to be achieved, in part, by:

increasing the volume of the Basin water resources that is available for environmental use by 450 gigalitres

The second recommended amendment reflected concerns raised by some stakeholders that the intended outcomes of the Bill, as outlined by the Minister in his second reading speech, would not eventuate.[22] These intended outcomes included:

  • further reducing salinity in the Coorong and Lower Lakes, so that it does not exceed levels that are lethal to insects, fish and plants that form important parts of the food chain
  • maintaining the Murray Mouth at greater depths, reducing the risk of dredging being needed to keep the mouth open and
  • increasing barrage flows to the Coorong, supporting more years where critical fish migrations can occur for estuarine fish.[23]

To address stakeholder concern, the Committee recommended that the intended outcomes referred to in the Minister’s second reading speech should be included in the Bill.[24]

Policy position of non-government parties/independents

Coalition

Coalition members of the Senate Committee provided additional comments on the Bill in the Committee’s report. They noted that many stakeholders had deep concerns that the Bill did not specifically guarantee there would be no detrimental socio-economic impact on MDB communities. They recommended that the ‘Bill be amended to explicitly enshrine a “no-detriment socio-economic test”’.[25]

The Coalition Senators noted that the Minister implied that the additional 450 GL in environmental water should be recovered through infrastructure measures rather than water buybacks and wanted the Bill amended to make it clear that the $1.77 billion in the Special Account will not be used to fund general water buybacks.[26]

They opposed the report’s recommendation to remove the caveat ‘up to’ from proposed paragraph 86AA(3)(b), stating that the proposed amendment ‘is clearly unworkable, unachievable and unacceptable’.[27]

The Coalition Senators were concerned about the potential environmental and economic impacts of flooding as a result of the removal of the constraints to the delivery of environmental water. They indicated that more work had to be done to determine the costs and implications of removing these constraints.[28]

Greens

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young stated that the Greens will move to amend the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 and this Bill to ensure that the Basin Plan will have 3200 GL set as the minimum amount of water to be returned to the environment.[29]

We are calling for a plan that recognises the advice of environmental experts and returns a minimum of 4,000GL to the Basin system because this is too important an opportunity for us to miss.[30]

Independents

Senator Xenophon raised concerns in his additional comments in the report that there was no guarantee that the additional 450 GL has to be delivered under this Bill and recommended that proposed paragraph 86AA(3)(b) of the Water Act be amended to ensure that 450 GL is the minimum rather than the maximum amount of water to be returned to the environment.[31] Among his other recommendations, Senator Xenophon wanted proposed section 86AD to be amended to prioritise funding to projects that will yield the greatest quantity of environmental water within the shortest period of time; and that Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audits of the Special Account be required after the first and third year of operation, and every three years after that.[32]

Position of major interest groups

Farming and irrigation bodies

While Prime Minister Gillard resolved to provide $1.77 billion to ‘allow an additional 450 GL of environmental water to be obtained through projects to ensure there is no social and economic downside for communities’, the National Irrigators’ Council noted that the Bill itself does not guarantee this. The Council recommended that an amendment should be passed requiring a ‘no‑detriment’ socio-economic test be applied to all projects before any funding under this Bill is approved.[33]

Two issues relating to removing constraints were raised: the costs and time necessary to resolve the constraints and the mitigation strategies and compensation for third party impacts associated with removing or easing constraints.

The issue of constraints is complex and resolving them will take time, money and extensive consultation and negotiation. While the Bill before the committee identifies improving or modifying any infrastructure that constrains the delivery of environmental water, it does not require any investigation of negative impacts or the costs to communities of doing so.

Murray Irrigation believes constraints must be considered but any management actions taken to modify river operating constraints must only be undertaken where there is a neutral or positive benefit to other water users and communities both adjacent to a constraint and downstream. Such a caveat must be included in the Bill to ensure that funds are not spent on bridges or dam outlets before it is known whether the flows can actually be delivered without liability.[34]

The New South Wales Irrigators’ Council argued that the Bill should include a requirement for mitigation strategies to minimise third party impacts from removing or easing constraints.[35] The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) used the example of flooding caused by removal of constraints, resulting in loss of land, ongoing loss of production and decreased value of the land which would need to be compensated for.[36]

The VFF opposed water buybacks because they have resulted in negative socio-economic outcomes for irrigators and communities. While the VFF accepted the assurances that another round of buybacks was not the intent of Bill, it wanted a government commitment to no further open tender buybacks.[37]

The VFF argued that the government funding should be used first to meet achieve water savings to meet the 2750 GL reduction target, before using Special Account funds for recover water above this target level.[38]

Environmental groups

The Conservation Council SA (CCSA) and the Wilderness Society (TWS) noted that the Wentworth Group, Goyder Institute and the Australian Wetlands and Rivers Centre stated that a reduction of 3200 GL in the SDL does not necessarily meet the needs of the river. CCSA and TWS stated that the additional 450 GL of water may not be achieved because there is no requirement for the Special Account funds to be spent to achieve this target.[39] They argued that as there is no requirement in the Bill to spend any funds in the Special Account, a future government might simply sit on the funds and not spend them on projects to obtain additional water or reduce the constraints in the system.[40]

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Australian Network of Environment Defender’s Offices (ANEDO), River Lakes and Coorong Action Group Inc. and Environment Victoria supported changes to the Bill requiring that a minimum of 450 GL of environmental water be recovered.[41]

The ACF opposed the use of Special Account funds to offset socio-economic impacts of water recovery, preferring that compensation should be provided by other Commonwealth funding.[42] Environment Victoria agreed with this, unless the funds in the Special Account were significantly increased and quarantined from funds for water recovery and constraint remediation.[43] CCSA and TWS saw a risk of the compensation using up a large proportion of the Special Account funds, so recommended limiting compensation funds to one quarter of the Special Account funds.[44]

Environment Victoria and the ACF wanted to add requirements for the annual report to require an assessment of whether projects demonstrate value for money and report on progress against a schedule of water recovery. Where targets are not being met, water buybacks should be prioritised over infrastructure, since they are ‘the more cost-effective means of returning water to the environment’.[45]

Financial implications

The Financial Impact Statement for the Bill states that $1.775 billion will be appropriated to the special account over the ten year period 2014–15 through 2023–24 at the end of which all remaining funds will be returned to consolidated revenue.[46]

Human Rights Statement of Compatibility

As required under Part 3 of the Human Rights (Parliamentary Scrutiny) Act 2011 (Cth), the Government has assessed the Bill’s compatibility with the human rights and freedoms recognised or declared in the international instruments listed in section 3 of that Act. The Government considers that the Bill is compatible.[47]

Key provisions

The amendments to the Water Act 2007 (Water Act) are set out in Schedule 1 of the Bill, with item 2 inserting a new Part 2AA – Water for the Environmental Special Account – into the Water Act. All the other items in Schedule 1 relate to changes required from the inclusion of Part 2AA.

Proposed section 86AA outlines the object of new Part 2AA of the Water Act. Proposed subsection 86AA(1) states that the object of the new Part is to enhance the environmental outcomes of the Basin Plan by protecting and restoring the environmental assets of the MDB and protecting biodiversity dependent on the MDB water resources so as to give effect to relevant international agreements.

The New South Wales Irrigators’ Council noted that the Explanatory Memorandum states that the increase in environmental outcomes above the 2750 GL reduction in SDLs would be achieved ‘while maintaining or improving economic and social outcomes’.[48] It suggested that there may be a need to amend proposed subsection 86AA(1).

If the intention of the Bill is to achieve greater environmental outcomes subject to social and economic neutrality, then the Bill should outline this explicitly.[49]

Proposed subsection 86AA(2) lists examples of how environmental assets of the MDB may be protected or restored such as by:

  • increasing water flow to the Coorong
  • increasing average water depth in the Lower Lakes and the Murray mouth
  • reducing average salinity levels in the Coorong and Lower Lakes
  • flushing salt from MDB to reduce average salinity levels
  • allowing environmental watering of River Murray floodplains and
  • providing over-bank flows to improve connectivity of River Murray water-dependent ecosystems.

Murray Irrigation suggested that this proposed subsection should be deleted because the examples are not required and the Basin Plan is the right place for specific targets or goals.[50]

According to proposed subsection 86AA(3) the object will achieved by removing or easing constraints to the delivery of environmental water to environment assets of the MDB and increasing the volume of environmental water up to 450 GL.

The National Irrigators’ Council, New South Wales Irrigators’ Council and Murray Irrigation recommended that proposed paragraph 86AA(3)(a) should be amended to ensure that such removal or relaxation of constraints on the delivery of environmental water will not result in third party impacts.[51]

Such a caveat must be included in the Bill to ensure that funds are not spent on bridges or dam outlets before it is known whether the flows can actually be delivered without liability.[52]

As discussed above, Environment Victoria, the ACF, River Lakes and Coorong Action Group and ANEDO recommended that proposed paragraph 86AA(3(b) be amended so that ‘at least 450 GL’ rather than ‘up to’ 450 GL of additional environmental water will be recovered.[53] They argued that the recent modelling by the MDBA showed that more than 3200 GL of environmental water was needed to safeguard the MDB’s water dependent ecosystems.[54]

Proposed section 86AB establishes the Water for the Environment Special Account, which is a Special Account for the purposes of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. The Special Account will:

… enable the use of non-lapsing accrual appropriations and will not require the transfer of moneys to a fund outside the CRF to meet accrued costs as payments become due. This means that moneys appropriated for accrued expenses (included in the price of outputs) can remain in the CRF until they are required to be spent in future years.[55]

This means that special accounts are non-lapsing appropriations that remain available to be used in future years. 

Proposed subsection 86AC(1) lists those funds that must be credited to the Water for the Environment Special Account: Parliamentary appropriations; amounts received for crediting to the Special Account under an agreement, including from a MDB state government under a bilateral agreement; amounts from property, and amounts from gifts.

Proposed subsection 86AC(2) states that any money received from disposal of or other dealings with water access rights paid for with funds from the Special Account should not be credited to the Water for the Environment Special Account. The Note to this subsection states that these funds are credited to the Environmental Water Holdings Special Account under paragraph 112(1)(b) of the Water Act. (See also item 3, 4 and 5 of Schedule 1 to the Bill).

Proposed subsection 86AD(2) sets out the purposes for which funds from the Special Account may be used. These include projects for:

  • improving water efficiency of irrigation infrastructure and water delivery infrastructure
  • improving or modifying infrastructure that eases the environmental water delivery constraints
  • increasing capacity of dams and storage to deliver environmental water
  • acquiring land or easements to facilitate environmental water delivery
  • improving rules, policies, practices and procedures for the use and management of MDB water resources
  • purchasing MDB water access rights to further objects of the Bill and
  • making payments to projects to further the object of the Bill and address detrimental social and economic impacts of these projects or water purchases.

The ACF and Environment Victoria called for proposed subparagraph 86AD(2)(a)(iv) to be amended so that funds could not be spent on increasing the capacity of dams and storages, but only on projects that increase the outlet capacity of dams and storage in order to deliver environmental water.[56]

Murray Irrigation, Victorian Farmers Federation, New South Wales Irrigators’ Council and National Irrigators’ Council do not support further Commonwealth buyback of water entitlements and called for the deletion of proposed subsection 86AD(2)(b) that permits the purchase of MDB water access entitlements towards achieving the increase of 450 GL of environmental water.[57] ANEDO argued that proposed subparagraph 86AD(2)(c)(ii), which relates to providing funding to address the socio‑economic impacts of projects, does not further the object of the Bill because it relates to socio‑economic and not environmental outcomes. It said the proposed subparagraph should be deleted and, if not, amended to prohibit compensation to the sellers of water access rights to the Commonwealth, that is, to avoid them receiving both purchase price and compensation for the sale of water access entitlements.[58]

CCSA and TWS were concerned that payments for detrimental socio-economic impacts could use up a significant proportion of the Account’s funds and suggested amending proposed subparagraph 86AD(2)(c)(ii) to limit payments for socio-economic impacts to one quarter of the Account funds.[59]

Murray Irrigation suggested that to entirely avoid the issue of compensation for socio-economic impacts of projects funded under this Bill proposed paragraph 86AD(2)(a) should be amended as follows to negate the need for proposed subparagraph 86AD(2)(c)(ii).

Making payments in relation to projects whose aim is to further the object of this act where that project has no negative social or economic impact on the wellbeing of any community in the Murray-Darling Basin. (delete subsections (i) through (vi)).[60]

Proposed subsection 86AD(4) requires that funding for a project or purchase under paragraphs 86AD(2)(a) or (b) or subparagraph 86AD(2)(c)(i) can only be provided if the project or purpose is related to an adjustment of the long-term average SDL under the proposed section 23A of the Water Act 2012.[61] The projects and purchases will go towards the proposed 450 GL increase which has been included as part of the adjustment in the SDL in the Basin Plan.

Environment Victoria argued that either the adjustment mechanism should have an ability to incorporate new knowledge or exceptions should be possible to proposed subsection 86AD(4) to enable projects to be included/accelerated/adjusted as a result of new knowledge.[62]

The New South Wales Irrigators’ Council recommended amending proposed subsection 86AD(4) to omit reference to purchase of water access entitlements.[63]

Proposed section 86AE states that while water access rights purchased with funds for the Water for the Environment Special Account form part of the Commonwealth environmental water holdings only the parts of the Water Act that relate to the MDB apply to such water access rights.

Proposed subsection 86AF(2) provides that bilateral agreements outlining the terms and conditions of financial assistance to a Basin state government must be prepared where these funds are paid from the Special Account.

Proposed section 86AG lists the payments into the Water for the Environment Special Account on 1 July of each year from 2014 through 2023.

Year

Amount

2014–15

$15 million

2015–16

$40 million

2016–17

$110 million

2017–18

$430 million

2018–19

$320 million

2019–20

$350 million

2020–21

$315 million

2021–22

$105 million

2022–23

$60 million

2023–24

$30 million

Proposed section 86AH states that, at the end of the ten year period on 1 July 2024, all the funds of the Water for the Environment Special Account are transferred to Consolidated Revenue and the balance of the Account is zero.

Proposed section 86AI relates to the contents of the annual report for the Water for the Environment Special Account.

Environment Victoria felt that the section outlining the contents of the annual report was limited in scope and should include the following:

  • a determination of whether projects listed under 86AI (2)(b) reflect an Environmentally Sustainable Level of Take, as required of all changes to SDLs made under other provisions of the Water Act
  • whether the projects demonstrate value for money
  • progress against the schedule of water recovery developed under s86AG and
  • a forecast of whether the objectives of the Special Account (that is, the recovery of at least 450 gigalitres of water for the environment) will be achieved within the lifetime of the account.[64]

Concluding comments

The recovery of additional environmental water is stated to be ‘up to’ 450 GL in proposed paragraph 86AA(3)b). However the impression given by the 26 October 2012 statement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Minister Tony Burke is that 450 GL would be recovered. Why was this exact figure not included in the Bill?

While the $1.77 billion will be paid into the Special Account over the ten year period, there is no requirement for the money to be used to fund projects to remove key operating constraints or recover environmental water, or to compensate associated socio-economic impacts. A future government could therefore decide not to continue any such funding even though funds will continue to be deposited into the Special Account.

Members, Senators and Parliamentary staff can obtain further information from the Parliamentary Library on (02) 6277 2500.



[1].       The Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Act 2012 received Royal Assent on 21 November 2012. The text of that Act is available at: http://www.comlaw.gov.au/Details/C2012A00157

[2].       Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, Schedule 1, item 2, viewed 6 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbills%2Fr4925_first-reps%2F0000%22

[3].       Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Hydrologic modelling of the relaxation of operational constraints in the southern connected system: methods and results, Murray-Darling Basin Authority, October 2012, pp. ii–iii, viewed 20 November 2012, http://download.mdba.gov.au/altered-PBP/Hydrologic-modelling-relaxed-constraints-October-2012.pdf

[4].       Ibid.

[5].       Constraints removal may be done through the acquisition of flood easements, provision of access works (for example, bridges, culverts), changed watering regimes and increased outlet capacity on major dams; Murray-Darling Basin Authority, op. cit.

[6].       Ibid., p. ii, “Flow indicators are expressed as a flow magnitude or volume, duration, timing and frequency as each of these components of the flow regime are important for achieving ecological targets. For example, overbank flows with a certain duration, frequency and timing are important for maintaining wetlands and river red gum communities.”  

[7].       Ibid.

[8].       M Gibbs and others, Science review of MDBA modelling of relaxing constraints for Basin Plan scenarios, technical note 2012/01, Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, October 2012, p. 2, viewed 22 November 2012, http://www.waterforgood.sa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/dewnr_tn_2012_01.pdf

[9].       Water for Good, South Australian Government scientific analysis of new MDBA modelling, Water for Good website, p. 1, viewed 25 November 2012, http://www.waterforgood.sa.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/overview-sa-government-analysis-of-additional-basin-plan-modelling_9-october-2012.pdf

[11].      J Gillard (Prime Minister) and T Burke (Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities), Returning the Murray-Darling Basin to health, media release, 26 October 2012, viewed 23 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressrel%2F2003167%22

[12].      Ibid.

[13].      Ibid.

[14].      S Martin and L Wilson, ‘States condemn Murray revision’, The Weekend Australian, 27 October 2012, p. 3, viewed 25 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F2005860%22

[15].      S Morris, ‘Northern states sour over water’, The Australian Financial Review, 27 October 2012, p. 10, viewed 25 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22media%2Fpressclp%2F2003517%22

[16].      Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA), Basin Plan, Murray Darling Basin Authority, November 2012, p. 41, viewed 26 November 2012, http://download.mdba.gov.au/Basin-Plan/Basin-Plan-Nov2012.pdf

[17].      Australia, House of Representatives, Votes and proceedings, no. 143, 26 November 2012, [Proof], P1976, viewed 28 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fvotes%2F2012-11-26%2F0047%22

[18].      M McCormack, ‘Motion of disallowance’, House of Representatives, Debates, 26 November 2012, p. 125, viewed 27 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2Fc94905e2-4370-462f-b408-d06e0d0a5c8e%2F0295%22; S Hanson-Young, ‘Motion of disallowance’, Senate, Debates, 26 November 2012, p. 61, viewed 27 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansards%2Fdefd08bf-48a7-4cae-8483-5d9684bff160%2F0131%22

[19].      House of Representatives Standing Committee on Regional Australia, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 2012, viewed 27 November 2012, http://aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ra/wateramendment2/index.htm

[20].      Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 1 November 2012, viewed 2 November 2012, http://aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/info.htm

[21].      Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 [Provisions]; Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012 [Provisions], 19 November 2012, p. 22, viewed 22 November 2012, http://aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/report/index.htm

[22].      T Burke, ‘Second reading speech: Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012’, House of Representatives, Debates, 31 October 2012, pp. 12 740–12 741, viewed 27 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22chamber%2Fhansardr%2F466695ee-0c7f-4e03-8a6d-246f5f265306%2F0027%22

[23].      Ibid., p. 12 741.

[24].      Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 [Provisions]; Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012 [Provisions], op. cit., p. 31.

[25].      Ibid., p. 42.

[26].      Ibid., p. 39.

[27].      Ibid., p. 40.

[28].      Ibid., pp. 41–42.

[29].      Enviroinfo, ‘Greens move to amend water Bills to protect Basin Plan’, Enviroinfo website, 19 November 2012, viewed 22 November 2012, http://www.enviroinfo.com.au/greens-move-amend-water-bills-protect-basin-plan/

[30].      Ibid.

[31].      Senate Standing Committees on Environment and Communications, Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012 [Provisions]; Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012 [Provisions], op. cit., p. 43.

[32].      Ibid., pp. 44 and 46.

[33].      National Irrigators’ Council, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, November 2012, p. 4, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[34].      Murray Irrigation, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, November 2012, p. 7, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[35]       New South Wales Irrigators’ Council, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, November 2012, p. 2, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[36].      Victorian Farmers Federation, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 8 November 2012, p. 4, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[37].      Ibid., p. 3.

[38].      Ibid., p. 2.

[39].      Conservation Council SA and The Wilderness Society, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 8 November 2012, p. 2, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[40].      Ibid., pp. 9–10.

[41].      Australian Conservation Foundation, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 8 November 2012, p. 1, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[42].      Ibid., p. 1.

[43].      Environment Victoria, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 8 November 2012, p. 2, viewed 23 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[44].      Conservation Council SA and The Wilderness Society, op. cit., p. 10.

[45].      Environment Victoria, op. cit., p. 2.

[46].      Explanatory Memorandum, Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, p. 4, viewed 6 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fems%2Fr4925_ems_9c2f9cde-bc00-4dbb-9a2b-3532ea27a1ae%22

[47].      The Statement of Compatibility with Human Rights can be found at page 5 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill.

[48].      New South Wales Irrigators’ Council, op. cit., pp. 2–3.

[49].      Ibid., p. 3.

[50].      Murray Irrigation, op. cit., p. 8.

[51].      National Irrigators’ Council, op. cit., p. 4; New South Wales Irrigators’ Council, op. cit.; and Murray Irrigation, op. cit.

[52].      Murray Irrigation, op. cit., p. 7.

[53].      Environment Victoria, op. cit., p. 1.

[54].      Australian Conservation Foundation, op. cit., p. 1.

[55].      Explanatory Memorandum, Financial Management Legislation Amendment Bill 1999, p. 1, viewed 14 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fems%2Fr726_ems_14ff5d3f-e417-45e2-a6a7-eebaa068beca%22

[56].      Australian Conservation Foundation, op. cit., p. 3.

[57].      Murray Irrigation, op. cit., p. 8.

[58].      Australian Network of Environmental Defender’s Offices Inc., Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, 8 November 2012, p. 7, viewed 16 November 2012, http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=ec_ctte/water_amendment_special_account/submissions.htm

[59].      Conservation Council SA and The Wilderness Society, op. cit., p. 7.

[60].      Murray Irrigation, op. cit., p. 9.

[61].      Section 23A of the Water Act was inserted by the Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Act 2012. For background on the Bill for this Act see: J Tomaras and B McCormick, Water Amendment (Long-term Average Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment) Bill 2012, Bills Digest, no. 38, 2012–13, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 2012, viewed 18 November 2012, http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbillsdgs%2F2012262%22

[62].      Environment Victoria, op. cit., p. 3.

[63].      New South Wales Irrigators’ Council, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, op. cit., pp. 2–3.

[64].      Environment Victoria, Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications, Inquiry into the Water Amendment (Water for the Environment Special Account) Bill 2012, op. cit., p. 2.


For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.


© Commonwealth of Australia

Creative commons logo

Creative Commons

With the exception of the Commonwealth Coat of Arms, and to the extent that copyright subsists in a third party, this publication, its logo and front page design are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia licence.

In essence, you are free to copy and communicate this work in its current form for all non-commercial purposes, as long as you attribute the work to the author and abide by the other licence terms. The work cannot be adapted or modified in any way. Content from this publication should be attributed in the following way: Author(s), Title of publication, Series Name and No, Publisher, Date.

To the extent that copyright subsists in third party quotes it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.

Inquiries regarding the licence and any use of the publication are welcome to webmanager@aph.gov.au.

Disclaimer: Bills Digests are prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament. They are produced under time and resource constraints and aim to be available in time for debate in the Chambers. The views expressed in Bills Digests do not reflect an official position of the Australian Parliamentary Library, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion. Bills Digests reflect the relevant legislation as introduced and do not canvass subsequent amendments or developments. Other sources should be consulted to determine the official status of the Bill.

Feedback is welcome and may be provided to: web.library@aph.gov.au. Any concerns or complaints should be directed to the Parliamentary Librarian. Parliamentary Library staff are available to discuss the contents of publications with Senators and Members and their staff. To access this service, clients may contact the author or the Library‘s Central Entry Point for referral.

Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print
Back to top