Water Law Review
The Government is carrying out a comprehensive review of Victoria’s water laws to deliver a streamlined and effective legislative framework for water management and use in Victoria.
Victoria’s Water Laws
The Water Act 1989 is the main piece of water legislation in Victoria. It provides the legal framework for water management and use across Victoria, including the issuing and allocation of water entitlements and the provision of water services by state-owned water corporations and catchment management authorities.
The Water Industry Act 1994 provided the licensing framework for the three State-owned metropolitan retail water and sewerage companies - South East Water, Yarra Valley Water and City West Water. However, the Water Amendment (Governance and Other Reforms) Act 2012 repealed most of the Act and transferred the businesses to the Water Act 1989.
Why do we need a review?
The Victorian Government wants water management in Victoria to continue to operate under a practical and considered legislative framework.
The Water Act 1989 and the Water Industry Act 1994 are now 23 and 17 years old respectively and have been amended many times over the past 20 years to reflect ongoing water reforms. The Water Act, in particular, is now 780 pages long, cumbersome, and hard to follow in parts.
The laws need to be amended to reflect several new Government water policies. Whether changes are needed to implement the Commonwealth’s Murray Darling Basin Plan, released in November 2012, also needs to be considered.
Rather than making further incremental changes to the Water Act, the Government has decided to carry out a comprehensive review of the legislation.
Objectives of the Review
The review will streamline and update current legislation and consolidate the Water Industry Act and Water Act into a single Act. It will reflect new water policies including the Living Melbourne, Living Victoria program and the land use change policy developed through the Western and Gippsland regional sustainable water strategies. The review will also consider whether legislative changes are required to implement the Commonwealth’s Murray Darling Basin Plan, released in November 2012.
Although the review is comprehensive, changes are not expected to significantly impact on water users.
The review will build on and strengthen how Victoria currently manages its water.
Water Minister Peter Walsh has appointed an expert panel with legal and industry experience to oversee the review process and make recommendations.
The Water Law Advisory Panel are: John Adams (Chair), John Wilkinson, Stuart Gemmill, Eamonn Moran, Russell Cooper, Robert Sadler.
The panel will identify proposed improvements to the legislation which it will test with key stakeholders at targeted forums across the state in late 2012. The Government will consider these proposals in the first half of 2013, with the aim of introducing a Bill to Parliament in the first half of 2014.
The panel will consider several key issues including:
Water resource management and allocation framework
The panel will look at the potential to simplify arrangements through new water sharing orders. These will consolidate all system level water management rules in a region into a single instrument.
The panel will consider whether the water sharing orders will help Victoria to better align with the Commonwealth Water Act and Murray Darling Basin Plan.
It will also look at the links to and future role of Victoria's current planning framework, such as regional sustainable water strategies and the 15 year long-term resource assessments. An option might be to enable a more targeted response to rivers that have been identified to be stressed, considering all water use impacts.
The aim is to simplify the framework without adversely impacting on entitlements.
Impacts of water extraction, storage and use
The panel will review whether public dams which could present a hazard if they fail should be licensed in the same way as private dams.
It will examine and update liability provisions in the legislation to ensure it reflects current government policy and legal interpretations.
Water corporation governance
A number of reforms to the water corporation governance provisions have already been recently undertaken. The review will consider whether any further refining is needed.
The panel will also consider updating the objectives of water corporations, to better reflect the way they carry out their business and ensure it is consistent with the Living Melbourne, Living Victoria vision and objectives.
Provision of water services, including water supply, sewage and drainage
The review will consider whether the current functions and powers that underpin water service delivery are sufficient to provide for sustainable and integrated water services. This is outlined in the Government's Living Melbourne, Living Victoria initiative.
The review will seek to ensure the rights to alternative supplies are clear enough to enable greater use of recycled water and stormwater.
The review will also consider whether the Water Act could be restructured to support the provision of water services in a simpler, streamlined way without reducing the range of functions.
Waterway and floodplain management, and regional drainage
The panel will seek to simplify and streamline the functions and powers that support activities to protect and improve river health, floodplain management and regional drainage.
The review may also make legislative changes needed to implement the Government’s response to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee inquiry into floodplain mitigation infrastructure in Victoria, which is due in early 2013.
Other relevant issues
The review will seek to modernise the compliance and enforcement provisions to reflect current Victorian Government policy and the National Compliance and Enforcement Framework.Other tidy-ups and improvements, such as the numbering, will also be considered.
The Water Law Advisory Panel met with key stakeholders in late 2012 to discuss the key issues that should be considered as part of the Water Law Review.
The Advisory Panel invited feedback from the community on the Water Law Review in 2012 via a public submission process, which closed on 21 December 2012.
The Advisory Panel reviewed and considered the submissions and incorporated relevant feedback in its advice to the Victorian Government.
The government is aiming to release an exposure draft and discussion paper later in the year, which will be another opportunity for the public to provide feedback on the proposals. This consultation period will last for six weeks.
DEPI will provide more information about the consultation when a release date is known.