The author of an independent report into allegations of water theft and corruption in the Murray-Darling Basin has delivered his final report and has expressed fears changes to fix the system might be delayed or diluted.
Ken Matthews has delivered his final report into the explosive allegations raised by the ABC’s Four Corners program in early 2017.
Mr Matthews warned pressure from some stakeholders could lead to the weakening of key reforms relating to water metering and transparency about water usage.
Mr Matthews said he was also disappointed decisions had not yet been made on whether to prosecute irrigators accused of taking too much water from the system.
However, he said he was satisfied Water NSW was progressing the investigations as quickly as it could.
“I can report that, while prosecutions have not commenced, vigorous investigative steps are continuing with an expected resolution date in February 2018,” Mr Matthews said.
“While I am disappointed that decisions have still not yet been taken I accept the reasons for the continuing delay.”
Mr Matthews’ findings follow his damning interim report in September 2017 which found the overall standard of NSW’s water compliance and enforcement was poor, and that urgent improvement was needed.
At the time, Minister for Regional Water, Niall Blair, revealed misconduct procedures had been launched against former NSW water official, Gavin Hanlon, who was secretly recorded offering to share confidential government information with lobbyists in 2017.
Mr Hanlon has since resigned.
The government has promised a ‘timely’ response.
Mr Blair said the government was committed to implementing Mr Matthews’ recommendations.
“He has identified some risks but that’s what we wanted him to do, to identify what we need to be aware of going forward as we continue to implement the changes that are needed,” Mr Blair said.
Mr Blair said the report would be considered in detail along with other recent findings from the NSW Ombudsman and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.
While legislation to create an independent Natural Resources Access Regulator has already passed the NSW Parliament, the Minister said new laws would be drafted next year to implement further measures.
“Everyone should have confidence that we are taking the issues that have been identified very seriously,” Mr Blair said.
“I’m confident that through (Mr Matthews’) work and through the work that we’ve already done to date we’ll be able to get things done in a timely matter and meet the expectations of all stakeholders.”