Basin Plan commitments package

The Australian Government is working with the Murray-Darling Basin states to deliver a $3.3 billion package of initiatives as part of its investment of more than $13 billion to implement the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

On 7 May 2018, the Australian Government confirmed its ongoing commitment to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and agreed to a package of further initiatives to support Basin Plan implementation. This will ensure delivery of the outcomes of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism and the 2016 Northern Basin Review.

Learn how the package will affect you.

Focus of commitments

The package of commitments (initiatives) is organised under 5 streams. Click on each stream below to open the summary and learn more about the individual commitments, or read the complete document on the commitments package here.

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1 Strengthening protection of environmental flows

Two commitments have been made under this stream:

1a The Australian Government will work with the NSW and Queensland governments to establish mechanisms to protect environmental flows.

This commitment is being progressed through a range of activities. As at 15 March 2019 these include the Basin Compliance Compact, which was signed by Basin ministers on 8 June 2018 and endorsed by Basin first ministers on 12 December 2018, a legislative instrument made on 3 July 2018 to implement the outcomes of the Northern Basin Review, state based water resource plans, and environmental works and measures to be rolled out over the next few years. The New South Wales and Queensland governments are developing improved rules for the protection of environmental flows for inclusion in their respective water resource plans.

1b The Australian Government will establish the position of Northern Basin Commissioner.

Mr Mick Keelty, AO APM, was appointed the Northern Basin Commissioner on 23 August 2018 for a three year term. He commenced in the role on 11 September 2018.

The Northern Basin Commissioner is focusing on overseeing implementation of the Northern Basin Review recommendations.

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  • Strengthening compliance and protecting environmental flows ​– the Australian Government is committed to improving compliance and protecting environmental flows through initiatives such as hydrometric networks and monitoring technologies.
  • Basin Compliance Compact – the compact is an agreed work plan for governments to ensure water rules are complied with and enforced.
  • Northern Basin Review report – the report covers the fundamentals of the Northern Basin Review, the proposed recommendations and amendments, and how the decision was reached.
  • New South Wales Water Resource Plans ​– information on New South Wales water resource plans, the planning process, water recovery accounting factors (also known as CAP factors), and how the NSW government consults with stakeholders and the community to develop water resource plans.
  • Queensland Murray-Darling Basin – information on Queensland water resource plans, water management in the Basin, rural water management program, management of environmental water, and support for agricultural businesses and communities.
  • Northern Basin Commissioner​ – more about the Northern Basin Commissioner and the role of the Commissioner.

2 Strengthening compliance with Basin water laws

Five commitments have been made under this stream:

2a The Australian Government will implement key outcomes of the Murray–Darling Basin Authority’s Review of compliance and enforcement.

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) released its Compliance and Enforcement Policy 2018-21 on 26 June 2018 and implementation has commenced. A key element is making legislative amendments to the Water Act 2007 to provide the MDBA with powers to enforce compliance in the Basin, consistent with the Basin Compliance Compact. The Department of Agriculture and the MDBA are progressing legislative amendments, including new civil penalties and criminal offences to deal with water theft. It is anticipated that the amendments will be ready for introduction to the Parliament in the second half of 2019, following public consultation on the changes.

2b The NSW Government will implement its Water Reform Action Plan.

The New South Wales Natural Resources Access Regulator legislation was passed on 30 November 2017 and the Regulator commenced on 7 May 2018.

Some 34 actions from the Water Reform Action Plan have been completed, including the release of a robust new metering framework to measure and meter non-urban water take in NSW. The 5-year staged roll out of the new framework commenced 1 December 2018 and requires the largest water users in NSW to be metered and telemetered by December 2019.

2c The Murray–Darling Basin Authority and the Basin states will develop and deliver the Basin Compliance Compact.

The Compact has been developed, with ongoing implementation. On 12 December 2018, the Council of Australian Governments endorsed the Basin Compliance Compact.

Basin states provided progress reports in October and November 2018 to inform the Compliance Compact Interim Assurance Report. The Report was noted by the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council) and published on 21 December 2018. The Basin states and the MDBA are working closely to ensure that annual commitments are achieved on time and in the manner committed to under the Compliance Compact.

2d The newly appointed Northern Basin Commissioner will monitor and advise on implementation of compliance commitments.

These are part of the Northern Basin Commissioner’s functions. The Commissioner will oversee the implementation of the Northern Basin Review.

The Northern Basin Commissioner, Mr Keelty, briefed the Ministerial Council on 14 December 2018 and advised that consultation has commenced with state governments, Basin communities and independent and expert stakeholders. The Commissioner will submit his first annual report to the Minister in September 2019.

2e The Australian Government will provide $20 million to improve hydrometric networks in the northern Basin and develop remote sensing and other technologies to enhance monitoring, measurement and compliance in all Basin jurisdictions.

A new Hydrometric Networks and Remote Sensing Funding Program is being administered by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

On 27 November 2018, Murray‑Darling Basin state and territory governments and the MDBA were invited by the department to submit proposals for funding under this program. The application period for funding has now closed. The assessment process has commenced and is expected to be completed shortly, with project agreements to be finalised as soon as possible after.

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3 Improving outcomes for Indigenous people, and addressing social and economic impacts of the Murray–Darling Basin Plan

Ten commitments have been made under this stream:

3a The Australian Government will fund two full-time staff positions for 3 years to support the Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations.

Contracts have been executed and funding is being provided to Murray Lower Darling Rivers Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations.

3b The Australian Government will enable the Indigenous Land Corporation to use its funds to access water entitlements as well as land.

The Indigenous Land and Sea Corporation now has the necessary legal authority. Enabling legislation received Royal Assent on 30 November 2018 after passing both Houses of Parliament on 28 November 2018.

3ci The Australian Government will provide $40 million over 4 years to support investment by Basin Indigenous communities in cultural and economic water entitlement and associated planning activities.

Program delivery arrangements are being finalised. The commitment includes $20 million each, over four years, for the northern and southern basins.

3cii The Australian Government will provide $20 million over 4 years for economic development projects for Indigenous, remote, rural and regional communities most affected by the Basin Plan.

The program was launched on 31 January 2019. The application period has now closed and the assessment process is underway.

3d The Australian Government will fund local engagement facilitators to help identify development opportunities and funding options for the communities of Collarenebri (NSW), Dirranbandi (Qld), St George (Qld) and Warren (NSW).

As at 15 March 2019, the Queensland facilitator will be covered by existing arrangements, and arrangements for New South Wales facilitators are being finalised between the Australian and New South Wales governments.

3e The Australian Government will work with the NSW and Queensland governments to identify northern Basin water entitlements to be allocated to Indigenous communities through state water resource plans.

The Australian Government has a facilitation role in respect of this commitment and, as at 15 March 2019, is working with the New South Wales and Queensland governments to progress it through state water resource plans.

3f The Australian Government will prioritise Indigenous and local suppliers to deliver environmental works under agreed toolkit measures in the northern Basin.

This commitment will be reflected in the arrangements that are being established by the Australian, New South Wales and Queensland governments for the implementation of environmental works and measures in the northern Basin.

3g The Australian Government will support works for cultural gatherings and low impact water recreation, including options to refurbish weirs at Cunnamulla and Wilcannia.

On 12 November 2018, the Australian and New South Wales governments announced joint funding of $150,000 for further work to determine the best option for refurbishing or replacing Wilcannia Weir. The governments also announced a commitment to provide up to $30 million to implement the final agreed option. The preferred location and design of Wilcannia Weir is expected to be confirmed by mid-2019 with construction anticipated to commence by the end of 2019.

Options for project investment at Cunnamulla are being progressed with the Queensland government and through consultations with the local community.

3h The Murray–Darling Basin Authority will report on how Indigenous values and uses have been considered in environmental watering.

A legislative instrument directing the MDBA to report on how Indigenous values and uses have been considered in the management of environmental water took effect on 1 July 2018. The first report, linked to state water resource plans, is due on 31 December 2019. The MDBA will consult with Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations and the Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations in March and April 2019 about the content for this year’s and future reports.

3i The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder will engage with Indigenous communities on the use of environmental water to meet Indigenous cultural values.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder and the MDBA have contracted the Murray Lower Darling River Indigenous Nations and the Northern Basin Aboriginal Nations to prepare First Nations Environmental Water Guidance, as input to the 2020–21 water year. Concurrently, the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is progressing the development of a broader engagement strategy.

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4 Improving confidence in Northern Basin Review data

Two commitments have been made under this stream:

4a The Australian Government will support public release of Northern Basin Review modelling.

The MDBA publicly released the Northern Basin Review modelling on its website on 16 August 2018.

4b The newly appointed Northern Basin Commissioner will provide the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council with information that will improve our understanding of the northern Basin.

The Northern Basin Commissioner, Mr Keelty, briefed the Ministerial Council on 14 December 2018 regarding his initial findings. Mr Keelty continues to consult with Basin governments and stakeholders.

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5 Strengthening the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism

The package includes initiatives to help implement the supply, constraint and efficiency measures of the Sustainable Diversion Limit Adjustment Mechanism.

Seven commitments have been made under this stream:

5a The Australian Government will announce an expression of interest for efficiency projects to begin recovery of 450GL of water.

The initial announcement was made on 13 July 2018. The program is due to be re-launched soon following the incorporation of additional socio-economic criteria requested by the Ministerial Council on 14 December 2018.

5b The NSW Government will talk to stakeholders about commencing water recovery towards the additional 450GL through water efficiency projects.

The NSW Government has been in discussions with stakeholders about water recovery towards the 450GL. This has included supporting the Murray–Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program as agreed at Ministerial Council in June and December 2018. The NSW Government has also supported joint consultation sessions in regional NSW with the Australian Government on the additional program criteria.

5c The Australian Government will link payments under the National Partnership for the delivery of sustainable diversion limit supply measures to states who are able to demonstrate their full cooperation with the delivery of efficiency measures as defined under the Basin Plan.

Basin ministers signed a Project Agreement for Stage 1 activities for supply and constraints measures at the Ministerial Council meeting on 14 December 2018. The Australian and New South Wales governments signed a project schedule under the Project Agreement for up to $97.76 million to fund supply and constraints measures on 28 February 2019. The Australian Government is working with Basin state ministers to complete project schedules for the remaining supply and constraints measures.

5d The Australian Government will support the establishment and refurbishment of weirs, including construction of fishways at Menindee Lakes main weir and Frenchman’s Creek, near Lake Victoria, NSW.

As at 15 March 2019, the Australian Government is working with southern Basin states to progress their supply measure projects, some of which propose to construct or refurbish weirs and fishways. This includes accelerated implementation of the fishways at Menindee Lakes main weir and Frenchman’s Creek as part of the response to the recent fish death events.

5e The Australian Government will commission independent reviews of the Water for the Environment Special Account in 2019 and 2021.

As at 15 March 2019, this commitment is being progressed through detailed project planning, with the first review to be completed by 30 September 2019.

5f The Murray–Darling Basin Authority will deliver annual technical workshops on the package of measures included in the SDL Adjustment Mechanism.

The MDBA delivered the first annual technical workshop on 28 June 2018.

5g Through the Council of Australian Governments Plan, the Basin states will develop a constraints measures work plan.

Basin ministers agreed to the Constraints Measures Coordination Work Plan at the Ministerial Council meeting on 14 December 2018. Implementation has commenced.

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Who this affects and how

The package of initiatives, agreed with the federal opposition in May 2018, enables the implementation of the Basin Plan in full and helps to protect the Basin for current and future generations.​

Basin governments will collaborate with stakeholders to implement the initiatives. For example, we will talk to Indigenous communities in the Basin about the best way to support their access to water resources.

Other initiatives will improve transparency and compliance, including how water is used, recovered and protected. The success of these measures relies on the collective support of all water users across the Basin.

Delivery

Delivery of the package will involve collaboration between agencies, including:

  • The Department of Agriculture 
  • The Murray–Darling Basin Authority
  • The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder
  • Basin state and territory governments.