Bill to bring river under Commonwealth control

23 Jul 2020

Posted August 01, 2019

Federal Member for Mayo Rebekha Sharkie has introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the Australian Constitution so the Commonwealth can manage national water resources that cross state and territory boundaries.

The Constitution Alteration (Water Resources) Bill 2019 mirrors legislation tabled in the Senate this month by Centre Alliance Environment spokesperson Senator Rex Patrick.

“The water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin and of the Great Artesian Basin stretch across multiple State and Territory jurisdictions and are both of national importance,” Rebekha told the parliament this week.

“This Bill recognises that in order to manage these water resources in an environmentally sustainable way, they must be Federally managed to the benefit of the long-term national interest rather than just a short-term or parochial interest.”

If enacted, this legislation would require a referendum asking the Australian people whether the Australian Constitution should be amended to give the Commonwealth Parliament the power to make laws for the use and management of water resources that extend beyond the limits of a State, while preventing the making of laws that would have an overall detrimental effect on the environment.

“The findings of the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission and the Australian Academy of Science's investigation of the causes of mass fish kills in the Menindee region of New South Wales leave little doubt that the current management of the water resources of the Murray-Darling Basin is dysfunctional and leading to significant adverse social, environmental and economic impacts,” Rebekha said.

“Sadly, the Murray-Darling is also facing increasing strain as the impacts of climate change accelerate.

“The Great Artesian Basin is also under stress through inefficient and excessive water management practices, and significantly overlaps the Murray-Darling Basin. This bill envisages that the management of these great natural water resources would and should be fully integrated.”

You can read Rebekha's full speech here.

The two Bills have been tabled in the Parliament. If the legislation is taken up by the Government, any constitutional amendment requires a referendum.

In the meantime, the Senate has recently supported a Centre Alliance motion for the establishment of a Senate Select Committee into the Multi-Jurisdictional Management and Execution of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

"With five states, all with different rules, and the Federal Government attempting to manage the Plan, it is not clear who is responsible for what, nor what the negative effects of different rules across each state are," Senator Rex Patrick said.

"There are questions around how the different measuring, monitoring and compliance measures in each state impact the execution of the Plan, as well as the effects of different enforcement, approaches in each jurisdiction. Oversight remains a serious problem and issues around transparency are significant.

"We need to get a solid understanding of the detriment that having multiple jurisdictions trying to manage the Basin has on the river system," said Senator Patrick. "The Murray Darling is a national river system not just important to South Australia, but to the nation. It's the nation's food bowl and a $22 billion hub of economic activity. It must be governed properly."

The terms of references for the Select Committee are available here.

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