In light of the recent Murray Darling environmental crisis, water rights have become an increasingly relevant and important topic of discussion.

The perpetuity of water as a resource is integral to the survival of Australia’s agricultural sector, as well as the hundreds of communities that line the river system as it snakes through four states and one territory.

The Murray Darling Basin
Source: MDBA

The Murray Darling Basin Plan was a joint-jurisdiction agreement that came into effect in 2012, bringing new regulations surrounding water consumption, environmental and sustainable diversion policy, and water recovery along the river system. The regulation and monitoring of the water market (trading of water allocations) aimed at providing a “consistent trading environment across the Basin”, while allowing the government to step in via various irrigation infrastructure operators where necessary.

Water use has been on the rise, and with higher demand than ever before, Australia has begun to reassess their water policies. The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission found that there was “no reasonable prospect of all water resource plans being delivered”, necessitating changes to the Plan across a range of areas. It is likely that this will foment significant policy change.

The Commission recommended an amendment that would “mandate proper and real-time metering of all extractive uses of the Basin’s water resources”. Should this be carried out, all water users would see increased reporting measures and a need for local authorities to regularly check pumps for correct metering methods.

Environmental sustainability has been a primary aim of the Plan since its inception, and the Commission similarly found that the proposed 450 GL of returned environmental water was not achievable under the current Plan. To fix this issue, diversion of “take for irrigation” sources will leave some areas with far less water allotment than before.

Labor wants to remove the cap on the government buyback of water, enabling them to stop relying on compulsory acquisition. This brings concerns that local communities will not have access to the amount of water they had before.

These factors are likely to guide much of the policy work that will be carried out as the Murray Darling Basin Plan is re-evaluated. As with all policy changes, there will be winners and there will be losers. Stakeholders and landowners will all vie for primacy, advocating for policies that favour their interests.

Furthermore, the severity of the water crisis for the lives and livelihoods of the people who call the Murray Darling Basin home will make it a key issue in the upcoming Federal election; the success of either party may well depend on their policy response to the problem.

Negotiating a new policy environment is a demanding and intricate process, and The Civic Group has years of experience understanding and engaging with key government bodies to achieve the best possible result for our client.