Ombudsman’s report exposes water compliance as rotten to the core

MEDIA RELEASE – 15 Nov 2017

A special report to the NSW Parliament by the NSW Ombudsman exposes that water compliance and enforcement has been rotten to the core for almost a decade and the government has failed to act despite repeated and detailed warning by the Ombudsman.  Previous Ombudsman reports in 2009, 2012 and 2013 told the government of the serious issues with compliance and enforcement, yet the government has failed to act and refused to publicly release those three Ombudsman reports.

NSW Greens water spokesman Jeremy Buckingham said:

“It’s clear that enforcement of water law does not function in NSW and is rotten to the core.  Some of these revelations are worse than 4 Corners or the Matthews Report.

“The government has been repeatedly warned by the Ombudsman that water compliance and enforcement is rotten, yet has turned a blind eye and deliberately hid previous Ombudsman reports from the public.

“It is only because the Ombudsman used his powers to go around the water minister and have this interim report tabled in parliament that we now know just how rotten things are in Water NSW.

“We need a broad ranging Royal Commission to investigate water in NSW so that all the issues and allegations that are out there are thoroughly investigated independently.

“Water minister Niall Blair must have known about the serious compliance and enforcement issues, but has done nothing but stonewall and cover up.  Enforcement actions have plunged under Minister Blair from 820 in 2014/15, to 200 in 2016/17.

“The Natural Resource Access Regulator Bill currently before parliament is a case in point.  The Bill fails to properly implement the recommendations of the Matthews Inquiry that compliance and Enforcement be controlled by an independent body.  The bill leaves responsibility with the Minister and the Department of Primary Industries, thus failing to deal with the conflict of interest identified by Ken Matthews and the Ombudsman.

“The Nationals must be stripped of the water portfolio or it will remain an area of maladministration and ripe for corruption.”

Some highlights from the Investigation into water compliance and enforcement 2007-2017:

  • The Ombudsman initiated his investigation in July 2016. He referred one matter to ICAC in April 2017.
  • Previous Ombudsman reports in 2009, 2012 and 2013 warned about serious issues – were kept secret by the government.
  • Compliance officers were ‘press ganged’ into the role without proper training or skills.
  • Water NSW staff allege they were directed not to investigate or had their delegations removed.
  • No enforcement action had been taken on unlicensed dams that contained large volumes of water and were being used for irrigation purposes without the required water access licences or water allocations in a water sharing plan area.
  • The transfer of some compliance and enforcement functions to Water NSW under the Transformation was having a debilitating effect on the conduct of enforcement activities across the State.
  • There were systemic failures by senior management, in both past and current regimes, to take action on water compliance matters.
  • Expenditure on compliance between 2012 and 2016 was $10 million less than recommended by IPART.
  • Excessive delays in completing investigations and taking enforcement and prosecution action and of matters that were not being sufficiently prepared before the relevant statute of limitation periods expired.

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