ICAC 15 recommendations to improve NSW water management

Friday 27 November 2020

The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has made 15 recommendations to the NSW Government to improve the management of the state’s water resources, after a repeated tendency to adopt an approach that was unduly focused on the interests of the irrigation industry.

The ICAC examined multiple allegations, over almost a decade, in two related investigations concerning complaints of corruption involving the management of water, particularly in the Barwon-Darling area of the Murray-Darling Basin. Ultimately the Commission was not satisfied in relation to any of the matters it investigated that the evidence established that any person had engaged in corrupt conduct for the purposes of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Act 1988.

However, it did form an opinion that in many of the matters it investigated the evidence established that certain decisions and approaches taken by the NSW Government department with responsibility for water management over the last decade were inconsistent with the object, principles and duties of the Water Management Act 2000 (WMA) and failed to give effect to legislated priorities for water sharing.

The report notes that at a policy level, the investigation found that the development and implementation of the 2012 Barwon-Darling Water Sharing Plan represented a failure to adhere to the priorities set out in the WMA.

Specific failures in the administrative arrangements concerning water regulation and compliance also created an atmosphere that was overly favourable to irrigators. This was largely due to chronic underfunding, organisational dysfunction and a lack of commitment to compliance.

More generally, the irrigator focus of the Department of Primary Industries – Water (DPI-W) was entrenched in its approach towards stakeholder consultation, which focused on the irrigation industry, while restricting information available to other stakeholders, such as environmental agencies. As a result, the policy-making process became vulnerable to improper favouritism, as environmental perspectives were sidelined from policy discussions.

The Commission has made 15 recommendations to address these issues and to promote the integrity and good repute of public administration in relation to water management.

Excerpt from ICAC media release https://www.icac.nsw.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/2020-media-releases/icac-recommends-changes-to-government-water-management-in-nsw-after-years-of-focus-on-irrigation-industry-interests