Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee: management, governance and use of environmental water

Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (16:05:49) — I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the report I tabled yesterday in the Parliament on the inquiry into the management, governance and use of environmental water by the Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Committee.

Before I make some reasonably brief remarks on the report I would like to take the opportunity to thank fellow committee members for their time and their energy: the chair, the member for Thomastown; the member for Mordialloc; the member for Polwarth; the deputy chair, Mr Ramsay in the other place; and also Mr O’Sullivan and Mr Young in the other place. I think committee members worked in good spirits towards bringing this report to the Parliament. I would like to also express my gratitude to the committee’s secretariat for its hard work in supporting the committee in undertaking what was, it is fair to say, a significant volume of work in quite a short period of time. Of course I would like to also thank the many witnesses who presented before the committee and those who made submissions through the course of its work. I am very grateful to those people for their willingness to contribute their time, experience and expertise, and I thank them.

The committee made 21 findings and five recommendations as part of this report focused on the management, governance and use of environmental water. Those recommendations focused on additional research and monitoring to identify more efficient and effective ways to use environmental water and reduce any negative impacts and increased transparency so the community can understand what is being done with environmental water and the reasons behind particular decisions and what is being achieved. Similar to the previous point, the committee found that there are greater opportunities for community input so that water managers can gain the benefits of local knowledge and understand stakeholder needs. It is fair to say that there is a reasonably new framework in place for the management of environmental water, and I think it is certainly a work in progress. In making these recommendations the committee noted that the government had signalled its intention to make improvements in a number of these areas through existing plans and strategies.

Issues that are identified in this report provide opportunities for improvements in several areas, and I certainly anticipate that these will be incorporated into future plans. The committee did not receive any universal or overwhelming issues in particular. There are a whole range of different views around how environmental water can be managed to benefit the environment and the natural flora and fauna in our communities, the irrigators and farmers who rely so heavily on water, and of course the local communities themselves. There are flow-on effects around tourism and the ways we can use this water, especially in our rural and regional communities, to service everybody but also to be able to ensure it can be utilised by those environmental systems that need the water, including through environmental processes that actually enhance and benefit the ecosystem where the water is found.

Of course we know that over the years there has been greater pressure on what is a very limited resource and a finite resource. The report found that in recent years there has been increasing recognition of the importance of water for the environment. We know the importance of environmental water for flora and fauna and environmental biodiversity, which I have mentioned. What is less clear, though, is how environmental water should be managed. The committee examined the management, use and governance of environmental water and heard a lot of support for continued environmental watering programs that are already in place. I want to thank the Minister for Water and the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning for a range of programs that are actually making a real difference right across the state.

The committee was somewhat limited by time, as I am now, but I believe that the committee has produced a report that will be of great benefit for environmental water managers, peak bodies and government agencies going forward. It was clear in finding that the government has made significant progress in this space and is actively working with local communities, irrigators and stakeholders to find the best possible outcome for what is of course a very precious resource for many.