Basin-wide Compliance Review

As announced by the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister on 30 July 2017, the MDBA is conducting a Basin-wide Compliance Review which will consider the legislative, policy and practical implementation of compliance in water management across the Murray–Darling Basin. 

The review is being conducted by an MDBA taskforce, led by Authority Member George Warne. A panel of independent experts has also been engaged to assist the taskforce.

The review will examine compliance at a whole-of-Basin level, and also consider on-the-ground compliance issues at a few specific locations in the Basin.

The MDBA’s own internal compliance monitoring and enforcement practices will be considered, and recommendations will be made as to how they can be strengthened and improved.


On 24 July 2017 the ABC’s 4 Corners program “Pumped” raised allegations about matters relating to water management and compliance in NSW. These matters are the responsibility of the NSW government – that is compliance and enforcement of water use by irrigators in northern NSW, changes to management rules in the Barwon-Darling river system made prior to the Basin Plan coming into effect in late 2012, and the conduct of certain state officials.

None of the allegations relate to actions of the MDBA. 

The Basin Plan largely takes effect on the ground through a combination of the Commonwealth’s substantial water recovery efforts, and the preparation by states of water sharing plans that are then accredited by the Commonwealth Minister as being Basin Plan compliant.  To the extent that the Water Act 2007 does not reach all state water management actions, states have committed through an intergovernmental agreement to take appropriate steps to ensure the Basin Plan’s environmental objectives can be met.  An example of such matters in the IGA is the ability to protect environmental flows in unregulated river systems like the Barwon-Darling in NSW.

When the Water Act 2007 was negotiated with Basin state governments, it was envisaged that states would continue to be responsible for ensuring compliance with their own legislation – that is, states would continue to be responsible for preventing illegal take.  The Commonwealth’s role was always envisaged to be ensuring compliance at the valley (or SDL resource unit) scale, through an appropriate audit and assurance regime.

Terms of reference

In summary the terms of reference address the following key issues:

  • the appropriateness of and compliance with state laws and 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;
  • the adequacy of penalty arrangements to suitably deter and punish non-compliant water use;
  • the adequacy of governance and institutional arrangements necessary to ensure legally compliant water use; and
  • steps required to improve confidence in water compliance and enforcement arrangements, sufficient to underpin the integrity of Basin Plan-compliant water resource

The full terms of reference can be found here.

Independent panel

A panel of independent experts has been engaged to assist the taskforce, and will focus particularly on reviewing the MDBA’s internal practices.

  • Allan Holmes, BSc, M Environmental Studies, FIPPA.
  • Abel Immaraj, MSc Engineering, Diploma of Hydraulic Engineering 
  • Eamonn Moran, PSM QC  LL.B (Hons); LL.M

Read more about the members of the independent panel.


The Review will take the following approach to complete its final report within the deadline set by the Prime Minister:

  • Establish best practice for non-urban water measuring, monitoring and compliance.
  • Assess how each Basin state’s compliance arrangements line up against best practice.
  • Assess how each Basin state assigns resources and manages the implementation of its compliance responsibilities.
  • Check on compliance implementation and reality at selected locations across the Basin by field visits and interviews with landholders.
  • Canvass broader experiences and knowledge across the Basin via an on-line survey.

Information will be collected from a range of sources such as state government agencies, non-government experts, water entitlement holders and the general community.

Priorities for improvement will be identified, with a focus on supporting Basin Plan implementation.

Similarly, information about the MDBA role in compliance will be collected from a range of sources.  Its approach to compliance both now and after the commencement of Sustainable Diversion Limits in 2019 will be considered, and priorities for improvement identified.

Consideration will also be given to the appropriateness of state laws and instruments, and their interaction with Commonwealth arrangements, in supporting the Basin Plan.

If you would like to directly contact the MDBA compliance taskforce, or would like to report a compliance issue, please email or phone 1800 230 067.