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Matthews Final Report - NSW Water Management and Compliance

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Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance
   24 November 2017  FINAL REPORT | KEN MATTHEWS AO Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance  Advice on implementation    Published by NSW Department of Industry Independent investigation into NSW water management and compliance—final report First published December 2017  More information NSW Department of Industry 02 9338 6963  Acknowledgments Cover image: Darling River inland fish habitat near Menindee NSW, NSW Department of Primary Industries PUB17/859 © State of New South Wales through Department of Industry 2017. You may copy, distribute, display, download and otherwise freely deal with this publication for any purpose, provided that you attribute the Department of Industry as the owner. However, you must obtain permission if you wish to charge others for access to the publication (other than at cost); include the publication in advertising or a product for sale; modify the publication; or republish the publication on a website. You may freely link to the publication on a departmental website. Disclaimer: The information contained in this publication is based on knowledge and understanding at the time of writing (November 2017) and may not be accurate, current or complete. The State of New South Wales (including the NSW Department of Industry), the author and the publisher take no responsibility, and will accept no liability, for the accuracy, currency, reliability or correctness of any information included in the document (including material provided by third parties). Readers should make their own inquiries and rely on their own advice when making decisions related to material contained in this publication.  Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance  Chair: Ken Matthews AO   PO Box 4478, Sydney NSW 2001 Tel: +612 9338 6963 24 November 2017 Mr Simon A Y Smith Secretary NSW Department of Industry GPO Box 5477 Sydney NSW 2001 Dear Secretary, I am pleased to submit to you the final report of my Independent Investigation into NSW Water Management and Compliance.   My previous interim report diagnosed serious shortcomings in the New South Wales water management compliance and enforcement system. It offered a prescription comprising a package of reform measures to restore health to the system. The NSW Government accepted that prescription in-principle and your department is now responsible for delivering it.    As we have agreed between us, this final report assesses the department’s progress to date in implementing the prescription and offers advice on how to tackle the considerable work involved in the months ahead.  At the outset I want to make two important points flowing from the public reaction to my interim report. First, community concern about compliance shortfalls has, if anything, intensified since my first report. The issue is not going away. The NSW Ombudsman has recently released a special report making many similar observations about longstanding problems in NSW water compliance and enforcement to those in my initial report. There continues to be strong and broad-based stakeholder support for firm and speedy action to fix the compliance and enforcement system.   Second, irrigators have expressed concern to me that the Four Corners program and my report have left an impression that non-compliance by irrigators is rife across the state. I want to make clear that that is not my view. The overwhelming honest majority of NSW irrigators take compliance seriously themselves and are firmly in favour of action against the small minority who may not be playing by the rules. They too, want the system fixed.  PO Box 4478, Sydney NSW 2001 Tel: +612 9338 6963  2 So, the environment for implementation is good. Decisive action is expected, and will be widely supported. Such a hospitable environment for reform is not always the case.  Against this background, my overall assessment of progress to date is that the government was quick out-of-the-blocks to accept the diagnosis and adopt the prescription. The legislation to put in place the new independent Natural Resources  Access Regulator has been introduced and passed speedily. You took immediate action under the proper public service processes to deal with individual staff members associated with the Four Corners allegations. The steps you have taken internally within the department to more closely manage water have also been put in place without delay. However, I am concerned that work on other elements of the total reform package is at risk of delay. I am concerned also about the risks of unwarranted ‘watering down’ of the reform measures as implementation proceeds. I am concerned that inter-agency boundaries, and organisational restructurings may, as has happened too often in the past, lead to an unsatisfactory or unworkable operational environment for compliance staff members in the future. Finally, I am disappointed that decisions have still not yet been taken about whether to proceed to prosecution in the several alleged cases of non-compliant irrigation activities aired in the Four Corners program. (I should note that I have been briefed in detail by WaterNSW on the practical reasons for this continuing delay.) Based on my experience in public administration, this second report attempts to provide practical management advice to you and your senior executive team about how to resume and maintain progress on each of the separate projects now required to complete the reform package. The report includes particular advice about ways to ensure senior departmental management can monitor progress and give directional guidance to implementation staff when required. Good governance arrangements are critical for a major program of reforms such as this. But the departmental implementation process needs to be more than well governed. Good process, planning, budgeting, and monitoring are necessary, but not sufficient. The people of the department who work on water issues have had a tough time particularly since the Four Corners report. Morale is at risk. After 15 years of major water reforms, change fatigue is clearly evident. Workloads have significantly increased as the latest set of reforms are tackled. So, the human side of this major reform process needs to be taken into account as well. In this, I commend the department’s efforts to date including efforts to improve leadership visibility, communicate direction, nurture ethical values, provide support for distressed or discouraged staff, and encourage two-way feedback. These efforts will need to continue.
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