The Territory has the weakest water laws in the country. In August, the Northern Territory passed the Territory Economic Reconstruction Bill (TERC Bill) in Parliament which included changes to our water laws.
These recent amendments further weaken the protection of the NT’s water resources by encouraging unsustainable development without proper oversight.
Stronger water laws are critically needed to avoid environmental catastrophes like those seen in the Murray Darling Basin.
What are the changes?
The changes that the NT Government has made to the Water Act that will:
- further undermine the effectiveness of Water Allocation Plans (WAPs);
- create new licence categories that will allow developers to trade and share entitlements with limited regulatory oversight; and
- allow for the trading of water across the NT without an appropriate regulatory framework.
Critically, a new “developer licences” category allows water entitlements to be transferred between licence holders in respect of a single development without any guarantee that the necessary conditions will be met.
Water extraction licence applications will no longer need to be advertised separately to any public advertisement for a development, significantly reducing transparency and limiting public awareness.
The Water Resources Review Panel, an expert panel established under the Water Act, will be abolished and discretionary powers afforded to the Water Controller to make licence application decisions will be increased.
We need stronger water laws
We’ are seeing a push for greater development of water resources in the NT. Without stronger water laws, we have no safeguards in place to avoid environmental catastrophes like those seen in the Murray Darling Basin.
Environment Minister Eva Lawler has promised further consultation over changes to the NT Water Act. The appetite for updating the regulatory regime governing the use of our water resources is an opportunity to promote the sustainable use of water while protecting ecological and cultural values.
Without strong water laws, the health of our water sources and their dependent ecosystems is at risk.
- Read the Environmental Defender's Office Briefing note: Proposed amendments to the Northern Territory Water Act, on which this article is based