26 Nov 2015
Changing the changes: amendments to Qld's water legislation
by Kathryn Pacey, Rachel Long
Some ‒ but not all ‒ of the changes made by the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 introduced by the former government will now be reversed.
The Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 was introduced into the Queensland Parliament on 10 November 2015 to reverse some of the changes made by the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (Qld) (WROLA Act) which had been introduced by the former government.
Proposed amendments to the WROLA Act
The WROLA Act made a number of changes to the Water Act 2000 (Qld) and other legislation related to the resource industry. The stated aims of the WROLA Act were to:
- reform the Water Act to deliver a more responsible and productive water management framework for the use of Queensland's water resources; and
- create a consistent framework for managing the take of groundwater by resource industries.
The various provisions of the WROLA Act were set to commence at separate intervals: December 2014, February 2015 and September 2015. Some of the provisions have already commenced, including:
- a new map showing the extent of mapped watercourse and drainage features across Queensland.
- changing the onus of proof to ensure that standard prosecution principles apply. It now requires the Government to prove that an unauthorised take of water has occurred, rather than the authorisation holder having to prove their innocence.
- provisions for a more flexible process for the release of unallocated water. This provides increased options, simplified processes and more flexibility for accessing unallocated water, including new methods for releasing unallocated water. New methods include fixed price sales in areas of low demand or for water that remains after a competitive release process, as well as the option of granting unallocated water for a particular purpose, such as for town water supplies.
- amendments to the River Improvement Trust Act 1940 (Qld) to:
- introduce more flexibility into determining the membership of a river improvement trust incorporating several local government areas or parts of local government areas;
- broaden the scope of activities that river improvement trust can undertake to manage issues such as erosion, sediment loss and water quality; and
- simplify the reporting requirements for river improvement trusts.
Some of the changes in the WROLA Act have been stalled, including provisions relating to the proposed underground water framework for managing development in the resource sector.
Changes under the proposed amendments
The Water Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 retains the proposed framework but:
- removes water development options;
- removes provisions relating to "designated watercourses"; and
- includes the principle of ecologically sustainable development into the new purpose of the Water Act and replaces references to "responsible and productive management" throughout it with "sustainable management".
Water development options
The WROLA Act introduced water development options to allow proponents to access water resources before the EIS process began, if the project met certain criteria. It was expected that water development options would be rarely used.
The Bill proposes to remove water development options, due to concerns about the science and consultation process, potential risks to the Great Barrier Reef as well as over-allocation of water resources.
Designated watercourse provisions
The Bill completely removes provisions for the Chief Executive to declare a designated watercourse. These provisions would have removed the requirement for a water licence or permit in order to take or interfere with water in a designated watercourse.
Ecologically sustainable development
The WROLA Act had included a new purpose of the Water Act that did not expressly reference the principles of ecologically sustainable development. This Bill reinstates this principle as well as replacing references to "responsible and productive management" with "sustainable management".
The Bill has now been referred to the Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources Committee, which has called for public submissions closing on 18 December 2015. The Committee must report to Parliament by 1 March 2016.
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