DEBATE on impacts to irrigators’ business will surely churn as ‘significant’ reforms roll out in the new year, but state government’s focus this week was all about topping up public trust.
Regional Water Minister Niall Blair tabled a bill on Wednesday outlining the state’s new independent water regulator, as recommended by Ken Matthews’ ‘sobering’ interim investigation into the Four Corners ‘Pumped’ controversy.
Mr Blair also announced further changes to water sharing rules, including a likely “no metering no pumping” mandate, would be revealed in an exposure bill for public consultation in early 2018.
For now though, he said a new regulator would be created.
If it passes parliament as expected, it will be headed by a three-member, skill-based board, act independently of the Minister, and take all water compliance matters from the state-owned WaterNSW.
The regulator would also advise government when to instigate action against alleged entitlement breaches.
Mr Blair said while Mr Matthews’ full report would be delivered later this year, the process of installing a new regulator, via the Natural Resources Access Regulator Bill, couldn’t wait.
Advertisements for the three board roles have already begun to appear in metro and regional publications.
“This… sets us on a pathway to restoring the community's confidence in water resource regulation,” Mr Blair said.
“Some may wonder whether this bill is premature and we should wait until the final Matthews report before taking any action. However, government has decided that it is critical for us to start the reform process now.”
The Land understands the new regulator is anticipated to be operating in the first quarter of 2018.
Meanwhile, Mr Blair acknowledged further reforms would be revealed in 2018 that would surely impact irrigators’ business.
“We want to fix aspects of water administration including simplifying the rules and making information more transparent for the public,” he said.
Mr Blair also conceded a political point to his Opposition portfolio adversary, Mick Veitch.
He said, with hindsight, more attention should have been given to Mr Veitch’s fears over transferring DPI Water staff to WaterNSW 18 months ago.
“I acknowledge that during debate on that bill the Hon. Mick Veitch made reference to "the problem of embedding regulators with operators", and while I did address this issue in good faith during my address in reply later that day, with the benefit of hindsight and in light of the ABC Four Corners program and other inquiries, more attention should have been given to this important aspect,” Mr Blair said.
“It is important to note, however, the transfer of compliance resources is not a reversal of the previous move; we are consolidating all water compliance staff into the new regulator.”
In July Four Corners alleged water theft by cotton irrigators in the Barwon Daring system and widespread meter tampering as well as state regulators failing to enforce compliance regulations and colluding with irrigators to access water recovered for the environment by the Murray Darling Basin Plan.
With Mike Foley
The story Blair outlines new water regulator, flags further ‘significant’ impacts first appeared on The Land.