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Productivity Commission to act as water reform umpire

25 September, 2014

The National Farmers' Federation (NFF) has urged the Government to continue the conversation with stakeholders about how the key functions of the National Water Commission (NWC) will transition to new agencies.

The call comes following the announcement (25 September) by the Parliamentary Secretary for Water Senator Simon Birmingham to formally abolish the NWC and hand key responsibilities to the Productivity Commission.

Chair of the NFF Water Taskforce Les Gordon said the NFF was disappointed to see the NWC abolished but welcomed the Government's commitment to continue many of its key roles.

Senator Birmingham tabled a bill in the Senate to abolish the NWC, announcing that:

  • The Productivity Commission will have responsibility for assessing progress on the implementation of the National Water Initiative and for the auditing of the Murray Darling Basin Plan
  • The Environment Department will advise the Minister on the milestone payments to Murray-Darling Basin States for implementing basin reforms
  • The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics & Sciences (ABARES) will monitor water markets and prepare the water markets report

"The Productivity Commission is respected for its independence and willingness to provide governments with frank and fearless advice. However, with new responsibility comes new obligation," Gordon said.

Agriculture, mining, business and conservation

"One of the key strengths of the NWC was its collaborative approach, consulting with organisations with a range of interests — including agriculture, mining, gas, business, conservation, indigenous water use, and urban water — on the water reform policy agenda. We hope to see that same collaborative approach adopted by the Productivity Commission.

"As part of the change, we also look forward to working with ABARES. There is a great opportunity to build a strong connection between ABARES's new role in water market reporting and their expertise in farm business analysis.

"Combining this expertise can help to provide farmers with the useful tools and resources they need to maximise the value of their water entitlements," Gordon said.

Prior to the announcement the NFF made several calls to the Government to retain independent oversight of water reform by the Commonwealth, State and Territories.

"We are pleased to see that the Government has listened to our concerns about the abolition of the NWC. We thank Senator Birmingham for his hard work to ensure that the key roles of the NWC will be funded into the future," Gordon said.

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