Rural adjustment a threat to water reform

By Rob O’Brien
The National Water Initiative (NWI) does not do enough to support adjustment for rural communities affected by ongoing water reforms, according to the chair and chief executive of the National Water Commission.

Speaking at the National Water Summit in Sydney last week Ken Matthews said that as a document the National Water Initiative was thin on the issues of adjustment faced particularly rural communities.

“Communities feel that the social and economic interests of rural communities are not being taken into account as the processes of water reform take place,” Matthews told delegates.

“I’m not often critical of the National Water Initiative as a document but the National Water Initiative spares only one paragraph basically to the issue of adjustment, its says ‘if there are any adjustment issues come and talk to the feds about it’, and I think it’s much more important than that.”

The National Water Initiative, which was signed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) in 2004, is Australia’s blueprint for water reform.

The documents represents a commitment by governments to increase the efficiency of Australia’s water use, leading to better investment and productivity, for rural and urban communities, and for the environment.

Matthews said that water reform would likely be jeopardised if adjustment was not properly addressed.

“At least the basic assistant programs are in place, but I think we’ve got a long way to go in lifting our national effort on adjustment,” he said.

“That’s not the only reason that water availability is changing – climate change as well forces adjustment in its own right on communities, but if communities feel the adjustment process is not being well handled that’s going to be a serious risk to the whole process of national water reform.”

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