Statement from Ken Matthews

30 November 2017

I am pleased to announce that I have submitted the final report of my Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance to the Secretary of the NSW Department of Industry.

My interim report highlighted a number of serious systemic failings in the way New South Wales was implementing and managing water compliance and enforcement. The interim report recommended a package of reform measures to ensure future water compliance and enforcement would be more transparent, more independent and considerably more effective than the current system.

Because these recommendations were immediately adopted by the Government and because the specific Four Corners allegations of maladministration and possibly non-compliant water extractions are now in the hands of the appropriate authorities, I proposed a change in my terms of reference for my final report.

The final report now assesses the department’s progress in implementing the Government’s decisions following my interim report, and offers advice on how to tackle the considerable work ahead.

I have found that the reform process is off to a good start - the legislation to establish the new independent Natural Resources Access Regulator is already in place. The new Board is about to be announced. A new division of the department to manage Crown Lands and Water has been created. New leadership has been appointed. More resources have been allocated. A major departmental program to foster ethical conduct by public servants has been launched.

Nevertheless, my report expresses my concern that other elements of the total reform package may be at risk of delay or ‘watering down’. As implementation proceeds, the three major reforms likely to be most in the spotlight will be:

  • the commitment to water metering
  • the commitment to improved transparency about water usage
  • the commitment to protecting environmental water.

None of these will be easy. All will require substantial planning, adequate resourcing both in terms of staff and budgets, and proper consultation with all interested parties.

My report also expresses my concern that decisions regarding possible prosecutions in relation to the specific allegations raised in the Four Corners report are still not finalised. Resolving these allegations must be a priority if public confidence in NSW water compliance is to be re-built.

While the NSW Government has been quick to accept all of the recommendations contained within my interim report, the momentum established in these past few months must be maintained. There is a long development and implementation process ahead. Both the Government and the agencies involved are off to a good start, but sustained effort, good process and authentic consultation with the many interested stakeholders will be critical to a satisfactory completion.

Based on the feedback I have received, community concern about compliance shortfalls has, if anything, intensified since my first report. The issue is not going away.