Terms of reference released for review of NT water extraction licences

By Nicole Besgrove and Margaret Michaels

16 Feb 2017

The independent review will review the application, assessment and approval processes for identified water extraction licences issued between 30 August 2012 and 30 August 2016.

The Northern Territory Government has released its Terms of Reference for an independent review of the processes used to prioritise, assess and allocate water entitlements issued since 2012 for new or increased water extraction licences.

The release of the Terms of Reference for the review is the next step in a key election commitment of the Gunner Government to review water licences issued between 30 August 2012 and 30 August 2016, which is the period when the Country Liberal Party Government was in office.

Review Panel

The independent review Panel consists of Dr Annette Davison as Water Auditor and Megan Dyson as Judicial Chair, who will have secretariat support from the Department of the Chief Minister.

Dr Davison is an experienced certified auditor and risk manager in the water, environment, policy and mining fields and will serve as the Water Auditor. Ms Dyson is an environmental lawyer and public consultant.

Scope and assessment approach

The scope of the independent review is to review the application, assessment and approval processes for identified water extraction licences issued between 30 August 2012 and 30 August 2016 and to:

  • assess whether grants of new or increased water entitlements were made in compliance with the Water Act 1992, the Water Regulations and relevant government policies;
  • incorporate (and have regard to as part of the assessment approach) an assessment by an independent water science expert of whether best practice evidence-based science was available to decision-makers when assessing the relevant applications for water extraction licences;
  • undertake a legal review to determine whether best practice evidence-based scientific analysis was sought and duly considered in relation to each application for a water extraction licence; and
  • assess whether any matters extraneous to the Act or Regulations were considered during the assessment and approval process for each water licence.

The review is limited to the consideration of the processes relevant to the applications for, and the granting of, new or increased water extraction licences between the relevant period and is not to consider Government resource management programs or policies which were not directly relevant to the granting of water extraction licences.

Assessment approach

The assessment of the identified water extraction licences will involve consideration of the following elements:

  • Legislation, Water Allocation Plan (WAP) and government policies: whether the process adhered to the requirements outlined in the Water Act and Regulations, the relevant WAP or draft WAP, for a declared Water Control District, or the existing NT Water Allocation Planning Framework where there is no WAP and the relevant government policies;
  • Expert advice: whether the approval of the water licence application and entitlement was consistent with advice provided by the former Department of Land Resource Management’s scientists and expert practitioners during the assessment and approval process;
  • Community comments: the extent to which comments received from the community were considered during the assessment and approval process;
  • Water volume: whether the volume of water applied for and allocated was considered in relation to both the intended use set out in each licence application, and the sustainable yield of the relevant source of water;
  • Separation of power: whether there was demonstrated separation of the decision making powers between the former Department of Land Resource Management, the Controller of Water Resources and the Minister in granting each new and increased licence entitlement; and
  • Further investigation: whether there is any evidence regarding the making of the grant which indicates that there should be a further investigation of the grant process.

What next?

It is proposed that the review will be completed by mid-2017, with recommendations to be provided to Cabinet which evaluate each new or increased entitlement issued between the relevant timeframe in accordance with the assessment approach outlined above.

For the duration of the review, water extraction can continue in accordance with the relevant licences.

If you would like any advice in relation to your water extraction licence, please contact us.

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