Finding national solutions
Water Act 2007 and amendments
...the crisis facing the Murray-Darling Basin ... not only reflects environmental failures but also represents a failure of Federation. For more than a century state governments have put parochial interests above the national interest and allowed this once great river system to be drained to death's door.
The Water Act has been described as the most extensive Commonwealth intervention into water resource management in Australia since Federation. In 2008 basin States referred constitutional powers to the Commonwealth to enable it to manage the basin water resources in the national interest. The management of the Murray–Darling Basin is a complex problem that will require further consultation and adjustment in the decades to come.
The Murray–Darling river systems do not respect State boundaries. The basin extends across four Australian States and the Australian Capital Territory.
Sections 98 and 100 of the Constitution of Australia
Since 1901 Commonwealth powers over the River Murray have been limited by the Constitution.
While the States have primary responsibility for rivers, the Constitution allows the Commonwealth Parliament to make laws in areas referred to it by the States.
Both the Commonwealth powers over river navigation and the differing interests of the States are recognised in this petition on the diversion of water from the Murray River for irrigation purposes.
Courtesy of the State Library of South Australia
The 1914 Murray Waters Agreement was the first of a long succession of agreements signed by the Commonwealth with the basin States and territories for the management of the water resources of the Murray–Darling river systems.