In February 1994 the Council of Australian Governments released its water policy, which emphasised that new legislation for water should provide for ecological needs.
EDO Qld, working with lawyer Dr Poh-Ling Tan, was instrumental in seeing that Queensland’s Water Act 2000 reflected that emphasis on ecological needs in its purpose, principles and the sections on water allocation and management.
Prior to 2000, Queensland’s water legislation included very little about the environment and ecology and was all about regulation of water extraction for consumptive purposes. Some catchments, such as the Condamine Balonne at the head of the Murray Darling Basin, were over-allocated, threatening wetlands like the Narran Lakes. There was fierce debate between water users and conservation groups as to the best way to proceed with future water allocations.
Industry uses tax deductible funds to pay for legal advice and to put its case strongly to government. To provide some balance against industry interests, EDO Qld lawyers are needed to speak up for protection of community rights and ecology, when legislation is prepared and when water plans are drawn up for various catchments.
EDO Qld’s Jo Bragg and Dr Poh-Ling Tan, whose PhD focused on water reform in Australia, were part of a stakeholder group providing perspectives to the Queensland State Government on water law reform over several years. They also undertook detailed submissions and advocacy to then Natural Resources Minister Rod Welford and his adviser Nick Heath. While the COAG policy emphasised ecological needs, the new direction would have been ineffective without the inclusion of key wording in the Water Act. The lawyers also successfully convinced the Minister to include third party enforcement provisions.
Together with others, they persuaded government to broaden the scope of water planning to include overland flows, which was previously poorly regulated.
Another improvement to the Act stemming from EDO’s involvement was provision of a grievance process for people who felt they were unfairly dealt with under a Resource Operations Plan. As a result, the Act now provides that some grievances, including those which may involve environmental flows, are heard by a Referral Panel that advises the Minister.