|2||Agreements then and now|
|2.1||The River Murray Waters Agreement|
|2.2||The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement|
|2.3||Murray-Darling Basin Water Agreement|
Managing the Murray was a problem in pre-federation days for the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The task was made even more complex by the fact that, for much of its length, the boundary between New South Wales and Victoria was the top of the bank on the Victorian side of the Murray; it still is. That the Murray was a major means of transport added a further complicating factor, and one that explains the presence of a number of clauses in the Australian Constitution that came into operation with the Federation of Australia in 1901 (Wright 1978). With the first diversions of water from the Murray for irrigation in the 1880s, conflict developed between irrigators and those concerned with the use of the river for navigation.
One of the first discussions on managing the Basin took place in 1863 at a conference held in Melbourne between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia to discuss putting locks on the rivers to improve their navigability. Many other conferences were held during the following 40 years, but little progress was made, large due to the prevailing parochialism of the three colonies at the time.
The Murray was the subject of many inquiries and commissions relating to its administration, the use of the river for navigation and other purposes, and particularly to ensure that South Australia received guaranteed minimum flows throughout the year. As much as anything, it was the severe drought that extended from 1895 to 1902 that brought the colonies/States together. A non-government organized conference in Corowa in 1902 provided the catalyst that eventually resulted in a workable agreement between the States. However it still took a long time to reach formal agreement and it was not until 1915 that the River Murray Waters Agreement (RMWA) was signed by the governments of Australia, New South Wales, Victoria, and South Australia. It took a further two years to establish the River Murray Commission (RMC), which had the task of putting the Agreement into effect.
In spite of its limitations and even though it marked the minimum upon which agreement could be reached, the RMWA was a pioneering document, one that was way ahead of its time. The same can be said of the Commission. Its prime task was the regulation of the main stream of the Murray to ensure that each of the three riparian States, and especially South Australia, received its agreed share of the Murray’s water. The main provisions in the first Agreement for the regulation of the River Murray were as follows:
Over the 70 years it was in operation, various amendments were made to the River Murray Waters Agreement, reflecting shifts in community values and changes in economic conditions. By no means were all the changes free of conflict, a comment that applies also to some actions of the Commission, in particular the abandonment of the Chowilla Dam proposal and the construction of Dartmouth Dam. The powers of the River Murray Commission were gradually extended, both by amendment and by informal practice, but its prime concern remained with water quantity (Table 1). The Hume and Dartmouth dams were built, as were 13 locks and weirs between Blanchetown and Torrumbarry, the Lake Victoria storage, the Maude and Redbank weirs on the Murrumbidgee, and the barrages at the Murray mouth.
In the late 1960s, the Commission conducted salinity investigations in the Murray Valley. This initiative ultimately led to the broadening of the Commission’s role in 1982 to take account of quality issues in its water management responsibilities. With the increasing evidence that the successful management of the Basins river systems was directly related to land use throughout the catchment, further amendments to the Agreement in 1984 enhanced the Commission’s environmental responsibilities, but only in a very limited way (Clark 1983; Crabb 1988).
2.1.1 The Seat of Government Act 1908
The availability of water played a major role in the selection of a location for the Australian Capital Territory (Pegrum 1983, 129-149). This is why the ACT includes the Cotter River catchment and why, under the Seat of Government Act 1908, the ACT has paramount right to the water in the Molonglo and Queanbeyan rivers, which New South Wales is required to protect for the use of the ACT. However, there is no institution, nor formal arrangements, for the joint management of these water resources.
2.1.2 The New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Agreement 1946
The New South Wales – Queensland Border Rivers Agreement 1946 covers the interstate rivers of the two States. The main points to the Agreement are set out in the preamble to the Schedule attached to the Act:
it is desirable that certain works be constructed on those portions of the Dumaresq, Macintyre and Barwon rivers which constitute part of the border between the States of New South Wales and Queensland on certain effluents from these rivers and on certain tributaries of the Dumaresq River in both the said States with a view to water conservation, water supply and irrigation in the said States and that certain investigations be made in respect of streams which intersect the said border west of Mungindi with a view to determining the quantities of water which should be available to the said States from such streams and with a view to the provision of works which could be of benefit to the said States by ensuring better distribution of the water in certain of such streams and for other purposes.
To administer the Agreement, the Dumaresq-Barwon Border Rivers Commission was set up, on which the governments of New South Wales and Queensland are equally represented.
To facilitate the conservation, equal sharing and use of the border rivers, a number of storage and regulatory structures have been built (DBBRC nda). West of Mungindi are a number of streams
that flow south from Queensland into New South Wales. These are known as the ‘intersecting streams’. Though mentioned briefly in the Agreement, they have received relatively little attention, except for the regulatory structures on the Balonne and its distributaries. This situation has changed significantly over recent years with increased attention being given to arable farming, especially cotton. For example, a weir has been built at Cunnamulla on the Warrgo (DBBRC ndb). However, whilst water sharing arrangements in the border rivers have been agreed to, similar arrangements for the intersecting streams have yet to be adequately determined.
2.1.3 The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Power Act 1949
Passed by the Commonwealth Parliament in 1949. The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Power Act 1949 made provision for ‘the development and use of the water resources of the area for the generation of electricity, for the provision of water for irrigation and the sharing of water between the States’ (SMHEA 1986). However, it was not until 1958, with the construction of the Scheme well advanced, that a formal agreement was reached between the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victoria ‘with regard to the construction and operation of the Scheme, the distribution of power and water, charges to e made for electricity, and other such matters’ (SMHEA 1986). A major function of the Agreement is thus the management and sharing of the water resources of the area covered by the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The Agreement set up the Snowy Mountains Council (established in 1959) to undertake these and other functions, and the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority to carry out the operation and maintenance of the hydro-electric scheme. The Council’s members represent the Commonwealth, New South Wales and Victorian governments and the Authority. The Authority operates under the direction of the Council. The corporatisation of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority has resulted in changes to water management and its relations with the MDBC.
The prime functions of the Snowy Mountains Scheme are the production of electricity by means of a number of hydro-electric generating stations and the provision of water for irrigation along the Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers. The nature of the Scheme resulted in a number of amendments to the River Murray Waters Agreement. Given its date, the original Act was unusual and pioneering in that it contained a number of clauses relating to the environment of the Snowy Mountains . In particular, a requirement was placed upon the Authority to protect the catchments of the Snowy River of 572 GL to the Murray and 550 GL to the Murrumbidgee . The consequences of the reduced flows in the Snowy River downstream of the Jindabyne Dam have become a matter of considerable controversy (Finlayson et al. 1994; SGCMC 1996).
2.1.4 The Victoria-South Australia Groundwater Border Agreement1985
The Border Groundwater Agreement between South Australia and Victoria covers and area 20 kilometres wide on each side of their common border (Figure 1). In this ‘Designated Area’, the purpose of the Agreement is to protect the groundwater resources and to provide for the co-operative management and equitable share of those resources and to guard against the undue depletion or degradation thereof (preamble to Second Schedule of Groundwater (Border Agreement) Act 1985).
2.1.5 The Great Artesian Basin
The south-eastern portion of the Great Artesian Basin (GAB) extends under he northern parts of the Murray-Darling Basin. Though there is no formal agreement for the join management of the GAB’s groundwater resources, a program involving the Commonwealth, Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Northern Territory governments is in progress to improve resource management, especially in terms of reducing the wastage of water from free-flowing bores (Eigeland & Joshua 1996).
In spite of the changes made to the River Murray Waters Agreement in the early 1980s, it was recognized that the Agreement and the River Murray Commission, though through no fault of their own, were increasingly unable to meet the needs of the Basin’s management and its growing resource and environmental problems. This was also a time when important changes were taking place in water resources administration in the States and at the Commonwealth level. In particular, it was gradually realized that critical issues were no longer confined within distinct jurisdictions. Individual agencies within the separate States were unable to tackle the developing problems of environmental degradation, especially as they found expression in such issues as rising water salinity and irrigation-induced land salinisation. More than that, the issues crossed State boundaries.
The increasing awareness of the escalating problems was evident in the reports of enquiries of all kinds, many of which called for urgent action (see for example SSCSE 1979). It was evident in the statements from governments and their various agencies, not least the River Murray Commission itself. It was also evident in the increasing call for the action from individuals and groups within the wider community, especially the predecessor of the Murray Darling Association (Wells 1994).
These mounting pressures had their outcome in October 1985, at a meeting in the Adelaide of ministers responsible for land, water and other environmental resources from the governments of New South Wales , Victoria , South Australia and the Commonwealth. This meeting was followed by two years of intensive meetings and negotiations by politicians and bureaucrats from the four governments. At both inter-state and intra-state levels, the people involved came to know each other in a way that had never occurred before. The outcome was the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement 1987, in its first form as an amendment – the final one – to the River Murray Waters Agreement. Five years later, a totally new Murray-Darling Basin Agreement 1992 was signed, replacing the RMWA.
Queensland was also a signatory to the new Agreement. The ACT has observer status. The Agreement was given full legal status by the Murray - Darling Basin Act 1993 passed by all the contracting governments. The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, in its initial and revised versions, is a remarkable achievement which finally puts into effect a recommendation of a 1902 Interstate Royal Commission on the Murray, namely that ‘the river and its tributaries must be looked on as one’.
The purpose of the Agreement is:
To promote and co-ordinate effective planning and management for the equitable efficient and sustainable use of the water, land and other environmental resources of the Murray-Darling Basin (Murray-Darling Basin Act 1992, Part I, Clause 1).
To achieve this, the Agreement established new institutions at the political, bureaucratic and community levels:
The Agreement and the new institutions are now often referred to as the Murray-Darling Basin Initiative.
The Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MDBMC) consists of ministers responsible for land, water and environmental resources in each of the Contracting Governments, the Commonwealth, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland (a maximum of three members from each government). Its prime functions are as follows:
Being a political forum, it has the power to make decisions for the Basin as a whole.
The Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) is the executive arm of the Ministerial Council. It consists of an independent President and two commissioners from each of the Contracting Governments, these normally being chief executives of the agencies responsible for water, land and environmental resources. In addition to its responsibilities for managing the River Murray, the prime function of the Commission is to advise the Ministerial Council in relation to the planning, development and management of the water, land and other environmental resources of the Murray-Darling Basin (Murray-Darling Basin Act 1992, Part IV, Clause 17).
This is a mandatory task which is undertaken with the assistance of its permanent staff based in Canberra.
Figure 1. Structure of the MDB Initiative
The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) of the MDBMC is prescribed in the Agreement. It is made up of an independent chairperson, 20 members consisting of:
Its main tasks are:
It has the difficult task of being a means to two-way communication between the Ministerial Council and the residents of the Basin.
Perhaps the most important achievement of the Murray-Darling Basin Initiative is that it has put in place a process by which the water, land and other environmental resources can be effectively managed on a Basin-wide basis (MDBC 1995a). In a relatively short period of time, this process has resulted in a number of substantive achievements, most of which have been referred to in other chapters. These include such measures as the Salinity and Drainage Strategy (which has been incorporated into the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement 1992), the Floodplain Wetlands Management Strategy), the Algal Management Strategy, the Irrigation Management Strategy, and a new method of sharing the River Murray between New South Wales and Victoria.
The Murray-Darling Basin Water Agreement (MDBWA) was signed at the 25 June 2004 Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting. The MDBWA sets out the arrangements for investing $500 million over five years commencing in 2004-05, to reduce the level of water over allocation and to achieve specific environmental outcomes in the Murray-Darling Basin.
The initial priority for the investment is water recovery for six significant ecological assets identified by the MDB Ministerial Council in November 2003:
Water recovery measures funded under the MDB Water Agreement include investment in water infrastructure, behavioural change and purchase of water on the market. Recovered water will be set aside for environmental purposes.
The National Water Initiative (NWI) was also agreed to at the 25 June 2004 meeting of COAG. The NWI Agreement was signed by the Commonwealth and all States and Territories in the MDB.