Interim report on the Murray-Darling basin allegations released

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Former senior water bureaucrat, Ken Matthews, has released an independent interim report into New South Wales’ water management and compliance of the Barwon-Darling River system.

The investigation was commissioned on 2 August 2017, following the broadcast on 24 July of a Four Corners program that presented allegations of widespread non-compliance with NSW water law at the Barwon-Darling River system.

Mr Matthews’ interim report found the overall standard of NSW compliance and enforcement work has been poor. The findings also concluded that the arrangements for metering, monitoring and measurement of water extractions, especially in the Barwon–Darling River system, are not at the standard required for sound water management and expected by the community.

Mr Matthews also reported the lack of transparency to members of the public of water regulation arrangements in NSW.

South Australian Minister for Water and the River Murray, Ian Hunter, said the interim confirms the need for an independent judicial inquiry.

“Mr Matthews’ investigation has been hampered by missing documents and his inability to interview key individuals who are alleged to have been involved in water theft,” Mr Hunter said.

“He has even acknowledged that water theft and non-compliance may still be occurring and calls for further investigations.

“A key theme of the interim report is that Mr Matthews simply doesn’t have the powers he needs to conduct a full investigation into these allegations and instead is left with more questions than answers.”

The report also covers extensive recommendations, including the creation of a legislated NSW Natural Resources Regulator that would take on water and eventually other resource issues.

WaterNSW has responded saying they support transparent, simplified and effective water management rules.

WaterNSW also reported that they look forward to working with the Government to implement the report’s reforms in the most prompt, practical and efficient manner with regard to the recommendations

Immediate action from WaterNSW includes:

  1. Access to information:  The WaterNSW implementation plan will address the information WaterNSW is responsible for administering, including water entitlement and licence conditions, water account management including temporary and permanent trades, meter reading and hydrometric information (river flows etc)
  2. Water take measurement:  The WaterNSW implementation plan will address meters, standards, ownership and telemetry requirements consistent with the NSW Government’s Water Take Measurement Policy

“Australians will now be asking for Malcolm Turnbull to take action at a Commonwealth level to also decouple the water and agriculture portfolios,” Mr Hunter said.

“This report serves as a call for action to both the NSW Government and also the Commonwealth Government to address concerns about our Murray-Darling Basin Plan and the continued health of our rivers.”

WaterNSW confirms that after extensive investigations, WaterNSW has taken six of the most serious allegations in relation to the Barwon-Darling system through to the point where prosecution briefs are currently before independent legal counsel.

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