The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) has recently undertaken a limited assurance review of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resource’s assessment of NSW’s performance under the National Partnership Agreement on Implementing Water Reform in the Murray-Darling Basin (NPA).
The department formally responded to a draft report provided by the ANAO on 17 November 2017 [PDF 577KB] . Given that the ANAO’s final report did not include this correspondence, the department is releasing the response on its own website.
The review found that the department undertook its assessments in accordance with the process agreed in the NPA. The ANAO is, however, critical of positive assessments of NSW’s performance and that the department did not adequately consider issues raised by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.
The department’s NPA assessments considered by the ANAO in its report pre-date the compliance allegations raised by the Four Corners program in July of this year. The department takes these matters very seriously. Each allegation needs to be treated on its individual merits and handled by the responsible government and entity best placed to resolve the issues.
On 25 November 2017, the government released the MDBA’s ‘Basin-wide Review of Compliance with State and Federal water laws’ and issued an implementation agenda for delivering the Basin Plan (Media release, Prime Minister re-affirms the Basin Plan deal and commits to compliance reform).
This includes strengthening compliance arrangements, including “making current funding for Basin States to implement the Basin Plan contingent on achieving the improved compliance outcomes identified by [the] review”.
Implementation of this announcement will involve strengthening the criteria for NPA assessments to include compliance. The department will also strengthen the criteria to include Water Resource Plans, including as they relate to the protection of environmental water.
While the department does not fully accept the findings by the ANAO, as outlined in the attached letter, this strengthened approach to assessing NPA payments in future years will provide a sound response to the ANAO’s concerns.