THE government has passed a bill that will finally give the Murray-Darling Basin "tough cop" the weapons to enforce the national water sharing plan.
Part of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority will be carved off to form a new compliance agency - lead by the Murray-Darling Inspector General - which has been recommended by a number of inquiries into the management of the plan.
The bill was passed on the last sitting day of parliament before the winter break, but was marred by the Nationals blindsiding the Liberals with an attempt to drastically alter the basin plan.
Despite his party's attempts to remove the 450GL water recovery target, Nationals Water Minister Keith Pitt said the new agency marked a significant milestone for the Coalition's delivery of the plan.
"Compliance is at the heart of a fair water-sharing system," Mr Pitts said.
The new bill gives the Inspector-General an array of tools to enforce the plan, from fines to criminal and civil penalties.
There are specific penalties and offences for water theft and illegal water trading.
"One of the Inspector-General's key priorities will be encouraging greater consistency in water management by establishing guidelines and standards for Commonwealth and state agencies to monitor water users across the basin," Mr Pitt said.
The Inspector-General will also be able to step in to investigate issues where state governments are either unwilling or unable to.
"The bill recognises that the states are the primary regulators of water in the Murray-Darling Basin, but where matters are not resolved, the Commonwealth now has the appropriate powers to step in," Mr Pitt said.
Former NSW Nationals MP and deputy premier Troy Grant is acting as the Interim Inspector-General and is expected to be appointed to the new permanent position.
Mr Grant told a parliamentary inquiry that he expected the agency to have 30 staff, many of which would be regionally based.
Mr Grant has been preparing for the agency to be legislated for months and said his team would be able to hit the ground running.