Through its decisions following my Interim Report on NSW water management and compliance, the NSW Government has embarked on an historic program of reforms to the way water compliance and enforcement is managed in the state. This second, and final, report provides advice on progress in implementing those reforms.
Implementation commenced speedily. The government was quick to accept in principle the full range of recommendations for reform. The major building blocks for change are being put in place quickly, in particular the legislation to establish the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR). A selection process to identify suitable board members has commenced. A new division of the department to manage water and Crown Lands was created. A new Deputy Secretary experienced in natural resource management was recruited from outside the department to lead it. Leadership of the water group within the new division was changed. Additional staff were assigned. Within the broader department, a major program to foster ethical conduct was launched. Considerable top management attention has been directed towards rebuilding staff morale, team performance and commitment to the reform journey ahead. In my view, the department has made a good start.
However, my review has identified five risks to continued momentum. They are:
1. risks associated with planning the implementation of the reforms
2. risks in not allocating the necessary financial and staff resources to the tasks
3. the challenges in translating the government's desired high-level reform outcomes into specific and practical measures on the ground
4. increasing pressure from certain stakeholders to ‘water down’ key reforms, including reforms to water metering and improving transparency of information about water usage
5. the risk of uncooperative relationships between government agencies and the risks associated with a new round of restructuring of staff involved in compliance and enforcement.