Water security and reliability is again in the national headlines following the ABC TV Four Corners report into the Murray Darling Basin, and the Federal Government decision to wind up the Drought Task Force and fold it into the Department of Agriculture.
ALGA has expressed its concerns to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet that placing the responsibilities within Agriculture means support for drought-affected farming at the expense of other community sectors also struck by the drought, such as non-farming businesses that form the backbone of township main streets.
I raised this concern directly with Minister Littleproud last week. He reassured me that he has retained oversight of drought assistance and the broader community impact and needs. We will keep a close eye on this area as many local communities remain deeply affected.
One thing that was made clear, due to the high number of resolutions debated and passed at our recent National General Assembly of Local Government, was that water security is vital to every urban, regional, rural, and remote community.
Motions from Wentworth Shire Council (NSW) included a call for the Federal Government to audit all water storages, ground water supplies, and foreign investors in water holdings along the Murray Darling Basin.
Another of its motions called on the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader to “recognise concerns from Indigenous groups, traditional owners and custodians that they are unable to continue cultural practices due to lack of cultural flows” and that high Indigenous population towns can’t afford drinking water that’s trucked in, or it’s of poor quality.
A motion from Toowoomba Regional Council (QLD) requested the Federal Government to “create a national strategy to enhance water security in inland Australia”, while the District Council of Streaky Bay (SA) called on the Commonwealth to “provide incentives for rural and regional councils to create micro systems which allow for effective and efficient water storage and management systems to accommodate domestic use.”
In Sydney too, where water restrictions began last month for the first time in a decade, councils are concerned about water security.
A motion from Willoughby City Council included a call for the Australian Government to “commit to a long-term investment program for the management and maintenance of water infrastructure in cities” and incorporate best practice water sensitive urban design mode provisions into standard planning instruments.
The ALGA Board will consider all the resolutions carried at the Assembly at its upcoming meeting and is conscious of the depth of feeling among proponents of the resolutions and those that voted for them.
Water security concerns are not going away. Climate scientists have warned much of Australia will become hotter and drier unless the world’s carbon emissions are drastically cut – including our own.
In the interim, ALGA has advocated for funding to help local councils prepare their communities to respond to the effects of climate change and disaster mitigation following natural disasters.
ALGA will continue to push for these important reforms and funding partnerships along with our member associations and the local governments they represent.
Your work at the local level, keeping your local federal members informed and enthused about working with local government, will be invaluable.
Lastly, if you attended the 2019 NGA, please complete our short survey. We’d appreciate your responses to help make 2020’s Assembly even better.