New NT water laws will sort out the shambles of water allocation in the past, according to Katherine MLA Sandra Nelson.
Mr Nelson said the Water Legislation Amendment Bill passed through NT Parliament late last month.
She said the new Bill would deliver the single largest reform of the Water Act since it began in 1992.
“As someone who lives in Katherine, I know all too well about the importance of water quality and safety,” Ms Nelson said.
“The ongoing issues surrounding PFAS in the Katherine water supply is a huge concern for us.
“If nothing else, this issue has made us even more aware of just how important water is to our daily lives, industries and wellbeing.
“Water is already a finite resource, something that many people in the Top End forget when we have such good wet seasons.
“Water allocation, particularly in rural and remote parts of the Northern Territory has been a shambles for a number of years.
“In Katherine our water is over-allocated thanks to poor planning and decisions on behalf of the previous government.
“In some cases, these decisions saw water allocated based on political support rather than community need.
“This was further impacted by licence holders who do not use the amount allocated to them; some using less than 30% than allocated.
“This ‘banked’ the water, using it as a bargaining chip in the hope that they are able to increase the monetary value of their properties.
“In an over-allocated water supply, quality cannot be guaranteed.
“We understand the role we can play in our own daily water use. In Katherine we are dealing with water restrictions for the first time ever. I am grateful that my constituents have taken these restrictions on board in good faith. It is a shame that it took contamination issues to bring this about.
“While personal action is helpful, industry needs to make an effort too. Many industries our economy relies on use significant amounts of water. Under existing legislation, most industries are regulated and limited on the amount of water they can use. This is through a test measured out against the needs of other industries, rural landholders and the community. However, the industries that are not regulated by the Water Act are the two that are likely to experience the most growth in the NT’s future: mining and energy.
“When the original legislation was drafted, these industries were relatively small. However, these industries have had fast and steady growth over the last ten years. Now is the time to regulate and limit their water use.
“I understand the reliance on certain industries for the continued growth of our economy. But, for these industries not to be regulated or have no limits to water use is irresponsible. And we are rectifying that with the amendments to this bill.
“This is important with hydraulic fracturing on the horizon. While this bill is not about fracking, it is a part of the mining and energy industries. It is important to get right , we must get it right.
“As a Member representing an electorate that is overwhelming opposed to fracking, I will be holding my government accountable for the promises we have made to implement without compromise all 135 recommendations of the Pepper inquiry. That includes taking all available steps to ensure the quality and volume of our water supply is maintained and that any and all discharge water is not a risk to people, animals or the broader environment.
“The Bill also increases the penalties for offences against the Water Act substantially. This includes the new offence of interfering with a waterway, increased scope to issue remediation notices and an infringement notice scheme that operates outside of the court system.
“These changes are a good step, long overdue.
“But let's all keep in mind that a fine, no matter how big, will not fix a compromised water supply after the fact. And for that reason, we need stronger legislation , which we are delivering with this Bill,” Ms Nelson said.
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