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Focus: New WA water legislation

13 June 2006

In brief: Senior Associate Robyn Glindemann and Research Assistant Vivian Chung examine the next wave of water legislation in Western Australia.

Introduction

The Water Resources Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 (the Bill) was introduced into state parliament by the WA Minister for Water Resources, John Kobelke (the Minister) on 17 May 2006. The Bill constitutes the first phase of water law reform in WA following the establishment of a new Department of Water on 1 January 2006 and the signing of the National Water Initiative on 6 April 2006.

The Bill seeks to implement various machinery-of-government amendments first introduced into the WA Parliament in 2003, including the abolition of the Water and Rivers Commission (the Commission), and the transfer of certain functions and powers of the Commission to the Minister. The Bill also proposes substantial consequential amendments to a number of water and water resource management-related Acts as a result of the repeal of the Water and Rivers Commission Act 1995.

Abolition of the Water and Rivers Commission

The Commission has been responsible for the management of Western Australia's water resources. In particular, the Commission's role has been to balance the objective of ensuring sustainable water use for current and future users, with the goal of protecting water sources and their dependent ecosystems. Since 2003, the Commission's responsibilities have been carried out by the Department of Environment, but has never been formally merged with the Department.

The Bill will formally abolish the Commission by repealing the Water and Rivers Commission Act and transfer the majority of the Commission's functions and powers to the Minister. Consequential amendments will also be made to various pieces of water resources legislation that currently confer functions and powers on the Commission.

Water Agencies (Powers) Act 1984

The Bill gives the Minister functions and powers that are similar to the general functions and powers that are currently conferred on the Commission in relation to the management of water resources under the Water Agencies (Powers) Act 1984. Many of the administrative functions of the Commission are transferred to the CEO of the Department of Water.

The Bill also inserts new ministerial powers into the Water Agencies (Powers) Act to enable the Minister to perform functions in relation to conserving, protecting and managing water resources. Under these new provisions, the Minister will be able to give written directions to:

  • licensed water service providers to provide information to the Minister that relates to the Minister's water resource management functions; and
  • the Water Corporation and other water boards to have regard to a general policy of the Government in relation to water resources.

The Bill provides for the establishment of new bodies and committees under the Water Agencies (Powers) Act:

  • a Water Resources Council;
  • a Water Resources Ministerial Body; and
  • advisory committees.

The Water Resources Council will be responsible for providing advice to the Minister on policy and planning issues in relation to water resources. The Council will comprise six to eight members appointed by the Minister who together will have expertise across a wide range of areas including conservation, economic development, community interests, mining and agriculture.

The Water Resources Ministerial Body is a body corporate that will act as the mechanism through which the Minister will be able to exercise his powers in relation to dealings in land, property or assets. It will act as an agent of the Crown and attract Crown immunity. The Ministerial Body itself has no specified functions.

The Minister may also establish specific advisory committees to advise the Minister on the administration of the Water Agencies (Powers) Act or any other relevant water-related Act.

Water Corporation Act 1995

The Bill imposes certain obligations on the minister administering the Water Corporation Act 1995. Under the new amendments, the minister administering the Water Corporation Act must consult with the Minister for Water Resources before:

  • approving the Water Corporation's strategic development plan;
  • approving the Water Corporation's statement of corporate intent; and
  • making nominations to the board of the Water Corporation.

This will ensure that the objectives of the Water Corporation are consistent with the Government's objectives and approach in relation to the management of WA's water resources.

Waterways Conservation Act 1976

The Bill transfers the functions of the Commission and management authorities in charge of water management areas created under the Water Conservation Act to the Minister. The Minister will be responsible for the conservation of waters and associated land, and general administrative functions such as licensing and permitting, and carrying out works.

To ensure administrative efficiency, the Bill confers on the Minister the power to delegate the performance of the administrative functions to the CEO and officers of the Department of Water.

Conclusion

The Bill also makes consequential amendments to a range of other water-related Acts in WA including the Country Areas Water Supply Act 1947, the Rights in Water and Irrigation Act 1914, the Swan River Trust Act 1988 and the Metropolitan Water Supply, Sewerage and Drainage Act 1909.

The Bill is the first step in the WA Government's plan to consolidate 14 water resources Acts (including some very old pieces of legislation) into one streamlined Water Act, to be administered primarily by the new Department of Water. The Department has also started work on an ambitious program of strategic policy and water planning development to sit alongside the proposed legislative reform. The next 12 to 18 months promises to be a very busy time for all. We will continue to monitor these changes and their outcomes. If you have any queries about this, or any other water issue, please feel free to call us.

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