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National Water Reform submission

This submission in relation to the Productivity Commission’s draft report on the National Water Reform 2020 (Draft Report) is made jointly by the Environment Centre NT (ECNT) and the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).

Below are our recommendations. You can download and read the full submission here. 


ECNT and ALEC call for urgent reform of the Northern Territory’s water regulatory system. Any reform should be grounded in principles of water justice which ensure:

  • that Traditional Owners, and their representative institutions, are centred in all decisions about management and use of water in the Northern Territory;
  • that everyone’s basic water needs are met;
  • that the high ecological, cultural and social value of the Northern Territory’s waterways are recognised and protected;
  • that people who are affected by decisions about water are given a seat at the table; and
  • that our water is recognised as a valuable public good that should not be squandered.

ECNT calls for the following specific reforms to the Northern Territory’s water regulatory system to achieve water justice:

  1. The Northern Territory Government must legislate for a right to safe drinking water for all Territorians in a Safe Drinking Water Act (as called for by the four NT land councils in 2020), and ensure that funding for water service infrastructure and management is adequate, transparent and risk-based.
  2. The Northern Territory Government must re-establish water advisory committees to ensure that water planning processes are transparent, accountable, and that community and stakeholder input is appropriately obtained for all water planning in the Northern Territory.
  3. The Northern Territory Government must establish mechanisms for catchment or ecosystem based management of waterways in the Northern Territory. This function should be performed by an independent (government-funded) panel of experts, land and water users, and community members, specifically including Traditional Owners or their representative institutions.
  4. The Northern Territory must set a price on water for consumptive use by irrigators to ensure that water management in the NT is adequately resourced, and to stop the entrenched practice of transferring public wealth to private hands via the handing out of significant water licences for free to irrigators.
  5. The Northern Territory must legislate to stop the entrenched practice of granting significant water licences to irrigators prior to the declaration of water allocation plans, to enable a more strategic approach to water management planning.
  6. The Northern Territory must publicly report on compliance, monitoring and enforcement activities with respect to water licences.
  7. The Northern Territory must publicly report on environmental and cultural water.
  8. An independent water regulator should be established in the Northern Territory. There should be institutional separation between water service delivery, policy-making and regulation in the Northern Territory to prevent political interference in water regulation and the perception of bias.
  9. All water allocation plans in the Northern Territory must include modelling for climate change.
  10. All scientific and technical models underpinning water allocation plans and water licences must be made publicly available, and peer reviewed. The methodologies used to underpin modelling for water allocation planning and water licence decisions must be consistent across the Northern Territory
  11. 11. The Northern Territory must revise its 20-year old Water Allocation Planning Framework by embedding best practice environmental practices and outcomes.
  12. The Northern Territory must ban the practice of floodplain or surface water harvesting

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