The Coalition Government will seek the agreement of all Basin states for the Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) to carry out an independent Basin-wide review into compliance with state-based regulations governing water use.

The MDBA will provide its report to COAG by December 2017.

Over recent months significant milestones have been achieved in the delivery of the Basin Plan, with the June 2017 meeting of COAG having endorsed an approach to ensuring the Plan is implemented on time and in full.

While the Government is confident about COAG’s implementation plan, it is important that Basin communities and all Australians have confidence that the rules that underpin fair and lawful water use throughout the Basin are being followed.

The Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, Barnaby Joyce, will write this week to all Basin water ministers seeking their agreement to terms of reference for a strategic review of compliance and enforcement regimes in the Murray Darling Basin.

We expect that, as part of their agreement to the review, Basin water ministers will commit to providing the MDBA with ready access to all relevant information and the full support and cooperation of relevant state officials.

Strong compliance regimes are just as important for irrigators as they are for the environment and Basin communities. The vast majority of the irrigation sector follow the rules attached to their water licenses, and the Coalition Government remains strongly committed to supporting this innovative and productive industry.

The MDBA will present its findings to the Council of Australian Government by 15 December 2017, following a report to the scheduled meeting of the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council in November 2017.

The MDBA will conduct the review in accordance with its’ powers under Section 172 of the Water Act 2007. In the time available, the review will identify the highest areas of risk of non-compliance and undertake a strategic analysis focused on these areas.

The terms of reference will cover:

  • The appropriateness of and compliance with state laws, statutory instruments (including water resource plans), the terms and conditions of water licences and entitlements and any other relevant powers or approvals;
  • The adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, including metering and investigating irregular activity; and
  • The adequacy of governance and institutional arrangements necessary to ensure legally compliant water use.

This review will complement a number of other actions underway in response to recent allegations, including the independent review lead by Ken Matthews AO; the investigation by New South Wales ICAC; and the audit being undertaken by the Australian National Audit Office.

The Government is committed to ensuring that these processes do not delay the full implementation of the Basin Plan as agreed by COAG in June 2017.

This includes finalising amendments to the Basin Plan arising from the Northern Basin Review, and related commitments made by NSW and Queensland water ministers in June 2017 to implement a package of measures to achieve improved environmental outcomes in the northern Basin.