Australia has been going through a dramatic reform of its water industry in the last few years, driven by the broad agenda of the National Competition Policy, and in particular the agreement of the Prime Minister and the State Premiers on the need for water reform (Council Of Australian Governments' Agreement, 1994). Internationally, Australia is seen by the World Bank as being at the leading edge of water reforms. Many Australians have been concerned with the degradation of our water resources. The Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology (CRC for Freshwater Ecology) is asked frequently by irrigators and others affected by the reforms as to whether the changes will lead to beneficial environmental outcomes. In an attempt to address this question we have compiled an overview of the progress made by each State in response to the water reform agenda, from publicly available documents, and have invited a panel of expert ecologists to consider the likely ecological outcomes. We have focussed in particular on the issue of allocations of water for the environment, but have touched on other relevant water reform issues. There are many other important issues such as water rights, trading and institutional arrangements where there has been considerable progress, and this broad sweep of the Council Of Australian Governments' (COAG) agenda is beyond the scope of this assessment. These are difficult and contentious issues, with many different interests and fairly poor information. States have the flexibility within the COAG Agreement to develop reforms that meet their particular issues and appropriate to their aquatic systems. There is a fair variation in what the States have done. The reforms have taken longer than was originally envisaged, although in some jurisdictions considerable energy and resources have been applied to the issues, and there has been substantial progress. This project has been partially funded by Environment Australia as part of the National River Health Program of the Natural Heritage Trust. The task was to identify the states' approaches, and then to have an expert group of ecologists assess the likely benefits of the actions being undertaken. The assessments included in this report are based on the best information available to us as a group of ecologists. We have based our judgements on publicly available information. It may be that some jurisdictions will disagree with our assessment, and in such cases we look forward to further information being made available to us and other interested parties outside Government.
MDFRC funding agency: Environment Australia, through the National River Health Program of the Natural Heritage Trust
MDFRC client: Department of Environment and Heritage (now Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities)
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Copyright (2000) Murray-Darling Freshwater Research Centre.