THE FEDERAL Government has announced an independent review into the Inspector-General for Water Compliance.
It is hoped the review will help to strength water compliance in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Troy Grant is the current IGWG and is tasked with ensuring various government bodies, water managers and users in the Murray-Darling Basin comply with their obligations under the Water Act 2007 and Basin Plan 2012.
Questions have been raised over the effectiveness of water compliance across the Murray-Darling Basin, including the Inspector-General’s ability to monitor and act against those taking more than their fair share.
The review, led by former chairman of the Productivity Commission Peter Harris AO, aims to ensure the Inspector-General has the relevant powers to carry out its functions.
These functions include: taking enforcement action for illegal activities; conducting audits into compliance and publishing reports; and issuing standards and guidelines to be applied by government agencies.
Minister for the Environment and Water Tanya Plibersek said the review will include engagement with relevant stakeholders and will report back to the Government by January 2024.
“This independent review will provide recommendations to Government on any changes required to ensure the Inspector-General can effectively monitor Basin states, and hold them to account, if more water is extracted from our rivers than is allowed,” Ms Plibersek said.
“Mr Harris brings with him a wealth of experience in the public sector, and has previously led on large-scale reviews including the Sydney Airport Demand Management Scheme in 2021.”
Deputy IGWC – Regulation Daniel Blacker welcomed the announcement and said he was pleased the review would be “conducted at an arm’s length”.
“This review is a great opportunity to see where we started, and how far we’ve come,” Mr Blacker said.
“We have conducted audits, reviews and investigations as well as meeting extensively with stakeholders across the basin since our establishment.
“This independent review will ensure we have what we need to continue doing our job properly, and to a standard the community expects and deserves.”
He said integrity has become a greater focus for the community in the last two years and the Inspector-General’s oversight role has grown to be a key institution building community trust and confidence.
NSW fails to meet MDBP requirements
The review comes as the IGWC continues his push for the New South Wales government to submit water resource plans as part of the state’s obligations under the Basin Plan.
Earlier this month Mr Grant reiterated the state’s lack of water resource plans which is required to assess Sustainable Diversion Limits, an essential element of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
Under the Commonwealth Water Act, SDLs provide for the establishment and enforcement of environmentally sustainable limits on the volume of water that may be taken from the Basin.
In effect, SDLs limit the amount of water that can be taken from rivers and aquifers for towns, industry, and farmers.
All Basin states have operational water resource plans for the 2021-2022 year, except for NSW.
“It has been well over 12 months now since I first called out the failure of the NSW Government in relation to water resource plans,” Mr Troy said.
“Without operational water resource plans, I cannot assess SDL compliance.
“The evidence is now in that during 2021-22, NSW continued to fail to deliver its obligations and commitments to the Basin Plan.”
It is acknowledged that NSW have seven groundwater water resource plans accredited of which five were accredited during the 2022-2023 year and two during the 2023-2024 year, and therefore not included in the 2021-2022 SDL compliance assessment.
“Disappointingly, the 2021-22 SDL Compliance Statement does not include New South Wales. The twenty water resource plans in New South Wales were not accredited or operating in the 2021-22 water accounting year – none… zero… zilch.”
The Inspector-General said he remains optimistic that progress is now being made to re-write NSW water resource plans to a standard that will make them accreditable by the Commonwealth Water Minister.
Source: DCCEEW, IGWC