The NSW Government has acted on the Barwon-Darling river system water theft inquiry moving water responsibility from the Department of Primary Industries to a new Crown Lands and Water Division in the Department of Industry.
Water compliance though will remain under the portfolio of deputy NSW Nationals leader Niall Blair, despite calls for the Nationals to lose control of the water portfolio because of systemic problems.
It is unclear yet if a new Natural Resources Compliance Unit will be run by this new division or not.
“The Department of Industry has already taken initial steps to address issues raised in Ken Matthews’ Report and from today a new Crown Lands and Water Division commences operation,” a spokeswoman from the office of Minister for Regional Water Niall Blair said.
“The new Division brings together teams from the Department of Industry – Water and Crown Lands, while the Forestry Policy and Research Unit will return to the DPI’s Strategy & Policy Branch.
“The principal purpose of the new Crown Lands and Water Division is to be an effective steward for some of the State’s most valuable natural assets, on behalf of the people of NSW.”
It is believed the new division will have a Natural Resources Compliance Unit, with directors to be appointed by the Minister, but to operate independently from him. The unit will oversee irrigation licences and crack down on water theft. It is believed the unit will also monitor compliance on new native vegetation laws.
The change comes after Ken Matthews brought down a scathing report on water management in NSW, following ABC’ Four Corners report into alleged water theft by irrigators on the Murray-Darling system.
Mr Matthews said in his report he had “serious concerns” about DPI Water’s poor performance in compliance, enforcement and transparency and took aim at the competency of DPI Water officers and senior management and questioned its fairness when managing the competing interests of various stakeholders.
The first casualty of the investigation was Gavin Hanlon, former Deputy Director General at DPI Water, who resigned last week and ceased employment with the Department on Monday.
“The industry’s ‘social licence to irrigate’ is at stake,” Mr Matthews said on releasing his report. “A systemic fix is required.”
Mr Matthews alleged DPI Water officers failed to progress their investigations of several allegations of water theft and illegal irrigation works in the Barwon Darling system and senior staff had failed to monitor their lack of progress.
The story Dawning of a new era? New division oversees water use in NSW first appeared on The Land.