Commonwealth water legislation

​​Water legislation administered by the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources includes:

  • Water Act 2007
  • Water Regulations 2008
  • Water charge and water market rules
  • Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005.

Water Act 2007

The Water Act 2007 provides the legislative framework for ensuring that Australia’s largest water resource—the Murray-Darling Basin—is managed in the national interest. In doing so the Water Act recognises that Australian states in the Murray-Darling Basin continue to manage Basin water resources within their jurisdictions.

The Water Act:

  • establishes the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) with the functions and powers, including enforcement powers, needed to ensure that Basin water resources are managed in an integrated and sustainable way.
  • requires the MDBA to prepare the Basin Plan - a strategic plan for the integrated and sustainable management of water resources in the Murray-Darling Basin.
  • establishes a Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder to manage the Commonwealth's environmental water to protect and restore the environmental assets of the Murray-Darling Basin, and outside the Basin where the Commonwealth owns water.
  • provides the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) with a key role in developing and enforcing water charge and water market rules along the lines agreed in the National Water Initiative.
  • gives the Bureau of Meteorology water information functions that are in addition to its existing functions under the Meteorology Act 1955.
  • gives the Productivity Commission a role in reporting on the effectiveness of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and water resource plans and the progress towards achieving the objectives and outcomes of the National Water Initiative.

See key features of the Water Act 2007.

Amendments to the Water Act

The Water Act has been amended several times since 2007. Key amendments include:

  • Water Amendment Act 2008 was enacted following a partial referral of powers by the Basin states (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory) to the Commonwealth.
  • The amendments related to the transfer of functions from the former Murray-Darling Basin Commission to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, strengthening the role of the ACCC by providing for the water charge and water market rules to apply to all water service providers and transactions, the inclusion of critical human water needs in the Basin Plan and other transitional matters. The referral of powers was negotiated between the Commonwealth and Basin states and formalised through two intergovernmental agreements:
    • Memorandum of Understanding on the Murray-Darling Basin Reform was signed in March 2008 by the Prime Minister and the premiers of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, and the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
    • Intergovernmental Agreement on Murray-Darling Basin Reform was signed in July 2008 by by the Prime Minister and the premiers of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria, and the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory. Building on the principles of the Memorandum of Understanding, governments in the Agreement committed to a new culture and practice of Basin-wide management and planning, through new governance structures and partnerships.

Independent Review of the Water Act 2007

The Water Act underwent its first statutory review in 2014, in accordance with section 253 of the Water Act 2007. The Review Report was tabled out of session on 19 December 2014. On 3 December 2015, the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources tabled the Government’s Response to the Report of the Independent Review of the Water Act 2007, accepting all 23 of the Expert Panel’s recommendations in full or in part. These recommendations were incorporated into the Water Act 2007 through the Water Amendment (Review Implementation and Other Measures) Act 2016, which was passed by the Australian Parliament on 2 May 2016. See the Independent Review of the Water Act 2007 for the Review report and government response.

Water Regulations

Regulations can be made to prescribe certain matters as provided for under the Water Act 2007. On 19 June 2008 the Federal Executive Council approved the Water Regulations 2008, also referred to as the Principal Regulations. Any regulations made under the Act after the principal regulations will be Water Amendment Regulations.

  • Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s special powers
  • Extension of transitional coverage to state and territory water planning arrangements water information.

Water charge and water market rules

The Water Act 2007 provides for water charge and water market rules to be made to regulate the water market and water charges across the Murray-Darling Basin. The Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources is required to seek, and have regard to, advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in making, amending or revoking the water charge and market rules. The ACCC is also responsible for monitoring and enforcing compliance with the rules once they have been made.

Review of the water charge rules

The ACCC is undertaking a review of the water charge rules with a focus on reducing the cost to assess opportunities for reducing costs to industry and governments, improving efficiency, and maintaining effective standards. The review is scheduled for completion by the end of December 2015. See the Terms of Reference and information about the review.

Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005

The Australian Government's Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Act 2005 provides the legal framework for the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) scheme. See WELS scheme regulations and standards for more information.