Following the State government's decision to repeal the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2021 after it received severe backlash from the WA community, attention has now turned to how the State's new legislative water reforms, due to be introduced to parliament by the end of the year, will affect WA's landowners.
More than 16 years in the making, the Labor government committed to tabling a bill designed to modernise WA's water-related legislation before the year's end during budget estimates in June.
With the consideration of traditional owners befitting of the modernisation of any of the State's legislation, speaking on the issue in parliament late last month WA Water Minister Simone McGurk said, "there is an understanding that water resources matter to them and that they have a stake in the consideration of how water resources are allocated".
"That is no surprise...I am on the record as saying that a number of times," Ms McGurk said.
However it is not yet known how this consideration of the State's Traditional Owners will be reflected in the new laws.
With the government still working through consolidating a number of other bills as part of the process for the legislative reform, Ms McGurk said she was committed to consulting the many various stakeholders who have an interest in the legislation around WA.
Given the new water legislation will have the issue of Aboriginal cultural heritage attached to it, Liberal MP for the South West Steve Thomas said there was potential for a repeat of the "ACH debacle".
"We will need to see this bill in advance and it is incumbent on the government to advertise it as early as possible and get drafts out there quickly, because otherwise these law reforms could end up being another ambush for the farming community," Mr Thomas said.
"If they are rewriting the ACH Act, you would also have to assume there is a question mark as to whether these water reforms will be delivered in time.
"Once a bill is dropped into parliament you would like to think that they have already done lots of consultation...but if they haven't done adequate consultation with the community first then it makes it ten times worse, so we are yet to work out if this will be an ambush or not."
Another issue Mr Thomas anticipated was a potential bid by the Department of Water to take control of the State's water sources.
"Every 10 years or so, when you get a Labor government, the Department of Water tries to take over water in the State and effectively further complicate it by putting in more restrictions, licence requirements and more impost on farmers operations, so I fully expect that will also be a significant issue," Mr Thomas said.
Examining the history of the State's water-related laws, several former ministers have undertaken to consolidate six other existing acts, some over a century old, to modernise WA's water legislation, starting in 2006 with the then Water Resources Minister John Kobelke who released a blueprint for water reform.
This was carried over by the subsequent Water Ministers Graham Jacobs (Liberal Party), Terry Redman, Mia Davies (both The Nationals WA) and David Kelly (Labor Party), who first announced the drafting of the new bill before Simone McGurk became the State's new Water Minister last December in a cabinet reshuffle.
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