1Our Campaigns 0Healthy Rivers & Nature Water Policies and Legislation

Water Policies and Legislation

As our state’s peak environment group, we’re in a key position to bring the Victorian community’s views to policy reform and government processes.

We work closely with other groups to coordinate our efforts, including the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Environment Defender’s Office, the Victorian National Parks Association, state and federal government departments and agencies, and Catchment Management Authorities. We also work with our affiliate groups and river champions, and regional groups from farmers, to environment groups and business.

Here are some of the relevant Victorian, national and global policies that have impacted river health.

Victorian policies and legislation

Victorian Waterway Management Strategy
This strategy outlines the framework for government to manage rivers, estuaries and wetlands so that they can “support environmental, social and economic values now and into the future.”

Water Act 1989
The Victorian Water Act provides the framework for allocating surfacewater and groundwater throughout Victoria. It is the most powerful piece of legislation in use in Victoria impacting on rivers, streams and groundwater.

The Water Act details the Crown’s entitlements to water and private entitlements to water from all rivers, streams and groundwater systems in Victoria. It allows authorities and individuals to use water either through bulk entitlements, providing authorities with bulk amounts of water, or licences or sales water, which allow people to access water for mainly commercial or irrigation purposes.

The Safe Drinking Water Act
This act places obligations on water suppliers to supply safe, good quality drinking water.

Environment Protection Act 1970 – State Environment Protection Policy (Waters of Victoria) 2003 and associated schedules
Sitting under the Environment Protection Act are State Environment Protection Policies (SEPPs). SEPPs are important as they provide goals and blueprints to protect the environment for the community both now and into the future.

The SEPP Waters of Victoria details the uses and values of our water environments (beneficial uses), sets measurements and indicators so we know how well they are being protected (environmental quality objectives) and outlines what needs to be done to protect them (attainment program).

Heritage Rivers Act 1992
The Heritage Rivers Act identifies 18 Heritage River Areas in Victoria. The Act protects public lands in specific parts of heritage rivers or river catchment areas which have significant recreation, nature conservation, scenic or cultural heritage attributes.

The Act prohibits some land and water-related activities in heritage river areas, including constructing artificial barriers and structures which may impact on the passage of water fauna or significantly impair the area’s recreation, nature conservation, scenic or cultural heritage attributes. The Act also restricts or prohibits in some areas diversion of water, some clearing practices, plantation establishments and domestic animal grazing.

Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988
The Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act is the main piece of Victorian state legislation for the conservation and protection of threatened species and ecological communities and for the management of potentially threatening processes. It was amended in 2000. Read that amendment here

National policies and legislation

Commonwealth Water Act 2007
This legislation sets up the arrangements for the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the legal requirements for the Basin Plan.

Water for the Future
Water for the Future is the Commonwealth Government’s $12.9 billion strategy that aims to secure the long term water supply of all Australians. It includes the ‘Restoring the Balance’ water buyback program and the ‘Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure’ program of irrigation modernisation and efficiency improvements.

National Water Initiative, 2004
The National Water Initiative (NWI) is a strategy to improve water management across the country. It encompasses a wide range of water management issues and encourages the adoption of best-practice approaches to the management of water in Australia.

The NWI will result in expansion of permanent water trade for more profitable use and more flexible recovery of water for environmental outcomes; more secure water access entitlements and improved accounting, monitoring and public access to information; improved water planning including a focus on surface and groundwater interaction and providing water to meet environmental needs, a commitment to addressing overallocated systems as quickly as possible, improved management of water in urban environments.

Intergovernmental Agreement on a National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, 2000
In recognition of Australia’s critical salinity, particularly dryland salinity, and water quality problems, COAG established the National Action Plan as the basis for developing detailed agreements between the Commonwealth and the States / Territories.

It’s key elements include setting targets and standards for natural resource management, focus on integrated catchment/regional management, community capacity building priorities, an improved governance framework, clear roles for all levels of government and the community and a public communication program.

National Water Reform, 1994
The February 1994 COAG meeting endorsed a strategic framework for the efficient and sustainable reform of the Australian water industry. The framework embraced pricing reform; the reduction / elimination and transparency of cross-subsidies; clarification of property rights; allocation of water to the environment; water trading arrangements; institutional reform and public consultation and participation. This was the start of major water management reform in Australia

Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act)
The Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act) protects matters of national environmental significance and Commonwealth land and covers actions taken by the Commonwealth.

International Agreements

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention) 1971
The Ramsar Convention is an international Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971. It aims to end the worldwide loss of wetlands and establishes a framework to do this through international cooperation and providing a guide for countries.

Under the Ramsar Convention, Australia is obliged to maintain the ecological character of our Ramsar sites through the conservation and wise use of wetlands. Victoria has 12 sites currently listed as Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, including:

  • Barmah Forest 
  • Corner Inlet 
  • Edithvale-Seaford Wetlands 
  • Gippsland Lakes 
  • Glenelg Estuary and Discovery Bay 
  • Gunbower Forest 
  • Hattah-Kulkyne Lakes 
  • Kerang Wetlands
  • Lake Albacutya  
  • Port Phillip Bay (Western Shoreline) and Bellarine Peninsula 
  • Western District Lakes 
  • Western Port 

China-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (CAMBA) 1986
CAMBA provides details of the agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the People’s Republic of China for the protection of migratory birds and their environment.

Japan-Australia Migratory Birds Agreement (JAMBA) 1974
JAMBA provides details of the agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Japan for the Protection of Migratory Birds in Danger of Extinction and their Environment.