As is common in Australia, in the Murray-Darling Basin there are three layers of government that play important, but different roles. Two of these are the Commonwealth and the State Governments – the Darling catchment extends across two states, New South Wales and Queensland.
The third, and probably least understood and acknowledged, is Local Government.
Between Brewarrina and Wentworth in NSW, the Darling River flows through, or has a relationship, with at least seven Local Government municipalities’ areas, as well as the Unincorporated Area of Western NSW. Heading downstream, the Local Government municipalities include:
|Brewarrina Shire Council||www.breshire.com|
|Bourke Shire Council||www.bourke.nsw.gov.au|
|Bogan Shire Council||www.bogan.local-e.nsw.gov.au|
|Central Darling Shire Council||www.centraldarling.nsw.gov.au|
|Broken Hill City Council||www.brokenhill.nsw.gov.au|
|Wentworth Shire Council||www.wentworth.nsw.gov.au|
Some of the Local Government areas in this region are the biggest in area in NSW and amongst the largest in Australia. For example, the Central Darling Shire covers an area greater than the whole state of Tasmania. However, there are large council areas with long roads and small communities.
While these Local Government areas have no direct responsibility for managing water resources, their town planning roles and responsibilities have an impact on the management of both land and water resources within their municipalities.
All councils invest in environmental works, measures and these all have an impact on land and water resources. The Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that together, Local Government across Australia invests more in environmental management than the State and Federal governments combined.
Local Government plays an increasing role in catchment management and a number of councils deliver natural resource management outcomes in partnership with catchment management authorities, community groups, researchers and agencies.
Councils are also aware that their land planning responsibilities can have either positive or negative impacts on their region’s water resources.
In the last 20 years, competing interests for water, declining flows in the Darling River and less water for irrigation have had a significant impact on the social fabric of communities along the Darling. At the same time, small communities and huge distances have seen the withdrawal of businesses and government services.
Increasingly, Local Government councils have become more active and vocal advocates for improving services as well as improving land and water management to secure a viable future for these small catchment communities. Healthy communities depend on healthy waterways. Some of this is also being done through regional organisations such as the Western Division of Shires, Regional Organisations of Councils and the Murray Darling Association.
WESTERN LAND LEASES
Nearly all of the land in the Western Division of New South Wales is held under Western Lands Leases granted under the Western Lands Act of 1901. The Western Division is that area not covered by a Local Government Council.
The primary purpose of the Western Lands Act is to ensure the appropriate management of land within a fragile and arid environment.
Conditions are attached to each Western Lands Lease to ensure the land is managed sustainably. This means that the land must not be over-grazed. Approvals must be also be obtained to cultivate land and to subdivide or transfer the lease. The Western Lands Commissioner has the power to impose notices on lessees to de-stock areas, refrain from certain activities, or rehabilitate damaged or degraded areas.
Most leases are perpetual (on-going) and can only be used for a designated purpose. If different or additional uses are sought, an application to the NSW Department of Natural Resources must be made and this requires a review of the environmental factors of the property.
Western Lands Leases are bought and sold in the same way as freehold property. However, when people ‘buy’ leases, they are only buying the improvements on the lease and the right to lease the land.
The NSW Government charges an annual rent for leases. Grazing and agriculture lease rents are based on the total area of the property and on the environmental impact of the land use, including a credit for managed conservation. As at 2009, rents for residential and business leases are three per cent and six per cent of the land value respectively.