Victoria, NSW and Queensland suffer from a lack of transparency and varying levels of vigilance, a report into compliance measures within the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has found.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority report examined the compliance and enforcement of water measurement and monitoring including metering, the effectiveness of deterrents and punishment and the adequacy of governance.
The chasm between state metering is a growing concern for the authority, with South Australia and Victoria’s annual take from the northern and southern basins 95 and 84 per cent metered respectively, while just two-thirds of NSW’s annual take was metered and less than a third of Queensland’s 1266Gl annual take was metered.
Overall, the report found that between 64 per cent and 73 per cent of annual basin surface water take is metered.
Meanwhile, problems in NSW and Queensland were put down to a lack of compliance officers, as well as ‘‘patchy metering, the challenges of measuring unmetered take and the lack of real-time, accurate water accounts’’.
The report also found the MDBA is not committed to compliance.
‘‘Without a commitment to the function, compliance has no voice in an organisation’s budget debate; the work does not attract the interest and attention of management; and the necessary systems and transparency are not developed,’’ the review said.
While the report found that Goulburn-Murray Water had instituted a networked, highly regulated and modern system, there continued to be issues with enforcement statewide.
‘‘The specific issue ... in Victoria is the lack of a full suite of penalties and sanctions ... Even for low-level breaches, offences must be proven and commonly those responsible are given an opportunity to take remedial action,’’ the review said.
‘‘There would seem to be considerable scope, and need, to reduce the burden of evidence and simplify offences.
‘‘The kinds of changes that have occurred in the enforcement of road traffic rules, by way of strict liability and the use of technology, may suggest the direction of changes required for some water offences.’’
In 2016-17, a total of 562 warning letters and notices were issued by Victoria, 149 more warnings than NSW, Queensland, SA and the ACT issued combined.
‘‘Although there are undoubtedly local explanations of variations in practice and the nature of offences, it seems likely the data reveals significant differences in compliance vigilance,’’ the report found.
‘‘Across all basin states, the end result of compliance activity is a very small number of prosecutions.
‘‘In 2016-17 there were no prosecutions in NSW and Queensland, and six in the other states.’’
The report made 12 recommendations, from implementing a ‘no meter, no pump’ policy and undertaking individual state reviews, to improving protection of environmental water in unregulated rivers in the northern basin.
It called for a Council of Australian Governments commitment to implement the recommendations.