NSW Govt Swift to Action with New Law to Address Water Enforcement Issues

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NSW Govt Swift to Action with New Law to Address Water Enforcement Issues

The first of a suite of proposed water reforms has been passed to implement the recommendations of the Independent Review of Water Management and Compliance interim report released on 11 September 2017.  A summary of its findings can be found here.

At the Second Reading the Minister for Lands and Forestry Paul Toole stated that the bill ‘represents the beginning of a period of reform and improvement for compliance and enforcement in the regional water portfolio and a continuation of improvements in water management generally across the State.’

The first reform is the establishment of an independent (appointed by the Minister) Natural Resources Access Regulator (Regulator) charged with implementing new standards to ensure effectiveness and transparency of compliance activities at an individual, water sharing plan and State level. The Regulator’s role is to determine whether the Government should institute proceedings for breaches of water legislation and to have oversight of all water compliance.  Compliance functions will be moved from WaterNSW to the Regulator to give the regulator oversight and to ensure independence from customer service.  This will enable WaterNSW to focus on customer service, such as providing information and advice, licensing, billing and meter reading.  The Minister will appoint a board to oversee the Regulator’s functions, including preparing strategies, policies and procedures, providing advice on the administration of compliance and enforcement matters and publishing convictions in prosecutions.

The day-to-day running of compliance operations will be the responsibility of a new chief regulatory officer who will be accountable to the board.  The board will have three members appointed based on their skills and experience.

Mr Toole told parliament that more reform is required to give effect to the recommendations made by the Independent Review interim report.  These include amending water sharing plans to provide for best practice measurement of water use and to make it easier for water users to understand what is required to comply, and establishing a register accessible to the public to improve accountability.

We will have to wait and see whether the Independent Review’s other recommendations will be instituted, including:

  • Establishing a non-compliance reporting hotline and email reporting channel;
  • Making the requirement for metering universal;
  • Removing all scope for self-reporting;
  • Enforcing modern Australian metering standards;
  • Implementing new monitoring and compliance techniques such as remote water meter reading and telemetry.

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