Tuesday, 12 February 2019
Standing Committee on Environment and Energy; Report
On behalf of the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy, I present the committee's Report on the inquiry into the management and use of Commonwealth environmental water, together with minutes of the proceedings.
Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).
by leave—I'm pleased to present the report of the Standing Committee on Environment and Energy on our inquiry into the management and use of Commonwealth environmental water. The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder controls a quantity of water in the Murray-Darling Basin. This water is for release from storage at times and locations where plants and animals need higher river flows or when wetlands need replenishment. Setting aside water for the environment is a relatively new concept and best practices are still evolving. This inquiry provided an opportunity for the committee to assess the water holder's work to date and progress being made.
The committee commenced its inquiry in February 2018 and held public hearings and site inspections around the basin area between March and June, including visits to Albury, Shepparton, Mildura, Murray Bridge and Goolwa, and an observation flight over the Menindee Lakes. In general, participants in the inquiry praised the work of the water holder and the way environmental water was being managed. It was acknowledged that the benefits of environmental watering are only likely to become apparent over the long term. The committee has recommended that the water holder continues certain practices, including the good-neighbour policy of working respectfully and harmoniously with other water holders and landholders, working with Indigenous communities, funding complementary measures, water trading and continued investment in infrastructure programs to maximise water efficiency. The committee also recommended that the water holder could improve in some areas, including better communicating the outcomes of environmental water, strengthening mechanisms for consultation with the community, considering establishment of an advisory or consultative group to inform on environmental water use decisions, and utilising the best available technology to monitor water movements and assess environmental conditions. It also made a recommendation on working around the vexed issue of shepherding environmental water. It's fair to say that, in all our hearings, the issue of shepherding environmental water was the most controversial. If you look at the reports on recent events around the Menindee Lakes, it is an issue that is most up-front in people's minds around the management of the Murray-Darling Basin.
On behalf of the committee, I would like to thank everyone who contributed to the inquiry. I thank the secretariat for their excellent work. I also want to acknowledge the strong work of the two chairs of the committee that we had during this process: the member for Mallee and the member for Calare. I thank both of them for their good work on this committee. I commend the report to the House.