Australia needs a nationally consistent regulatory framework for water

Posted 29 January 2018

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The chorus of calls for a national water strategy has grown louder, with an Association corporate member and one of Australia’s leading water institutions taking the argument to the Productivity Commission.

With economic, technical, environmental and public health regulation often differing between jurisdictions, International Centre of Excellence in Water Resources Management (ICE WaRM) Managing Director Darryl Day said Australia’s siloed regulatory environment is detrimental to achieving efficiency and value for customers and community. 

ICE WaRM’s submission to the Productivity Commission recommends a renewal of the NWI, as well as constructing a national regulatory framework with reference to the International Water Association’s 2016 Lisbon Charter.

“Regulation maturity has been a big part of Australia’s water reform journey. States and territories have retained regulatory responsibility, but there is still work to do. Each of our regulators have slightly different drivers and objectives,” Day said. 

“We need a framework that recognises the role of each of those regulators, while also having agreement between jurisdictions to achieve a nationally consistent approach.

“We need to look at regulation holistically, assessing how the interaction of different regulators drives price, service level and response, regarding both customers and community expectations.”

ICE WaRM has suggested taking the Lisbon Charter’s principles, frameworks and the imperative of transparency in order to achieve a holistic approach to Australia’s regulatory future, Day said. 

“The Lisbon Charter sets roles and responsibilities around regulation frameworks that will be useful for Australia when considering reform. We need to develop regulation so that our services are provided more efficiently, effectively and productively to meet the needs of customers and community in future,” he said. 

ICE WaRM has also recommended a thorough ‘gap analysis’ of Australia’s current position in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) compared to where it plans to be, in order to assess what needs to be done by 2030. 

“We need to recognise that the Sustainable Development Goals apply to high income countries as well as low and middle income countries. Australia has work to do in terms of meeting the SDGs, but what we don’t have is a gap analysis of where we are at currently,” Day said. 

“Identifying the gap is an important piece of work that needs to be led by governments. In terms of SDG 6 [Water and Sanitation], a very obvious area where we have a significant gap is water for remote and regional indigenous communities. 

“Australia’s support for progress on the SDGs internationally is very highly regarded, but we are not doing as much on our home soil as we should be. It’s time we established baseline data for our regional and remote communities so that we can start reporting properly.”

ICE WaRM has also urged the Productivity Commission to consider future investment in its inquiry. Day said Australia’s current water expertise is a result of research funding, which has dropped off significantly in the past decade. 

“Water has gone of the political radar and there is not the same level of government funding in research development and knowledge transfer than there has been in the past. But our past investment served Australia very well; it enabled us to build expertise based on science and innovation,” Day said. 

“Australia needs to continue to invest in research in water quality, water services and water resources management because that research, for the public good, requires multi jurisdiction collaboration and is not going to come from any of the different sectors in isolation.

“We are at risk of stifling innovative, efficiency and productivity without that research. We won’t have a pipeline of skilled experts to support us when we need it most.”

Review ICE WaRM’s full submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry here.

The Australian Water Association also made a submission to the Productivity Commission, calling for a major shakeup of the institutional architecture of the rural and urban water sectors. You can read it here.
 
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