Skip to main content
Go to search page

Terms of Reference: Murray-Darling Basin Water Compliance Review


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 Murray–Darling Basin Authority. 

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.


It was requested the Murray–Darling Basin Authority (the Authority) provide an independent, Basin-wide strategic review into compliance with state and territory-based regulations governing water use in the Murray–Darling Basin (the Basin).

This advice has been provided to inform governments on options for improvements to compliance regimes in the Basin, with the aim of providing Basin communities and all Australians with confidence that the rules that underpin fair and lawful water use throughout the Basin are being applied and followed.   

The Authority was supported in its review by an independent panel of experts, which provided advice on the methodology and approach used by the Authority. The panel of experts also provided a separate report to the Ministerial Council on its assessment of the Authority’s report and on its assessment of the Authority’s own compliance and enforcement arrangements under the Commonwealth Water Act (2007), the interactions of these arrangements with state laws and instruments, and options for improving the overall effectiveness of the arrangements in support of the Basin Plan.

In June 2017, COAG adopted the report of the Murray–Darling Basin Ministerial Council (Ministerial Council), Implementing the Basin Plan, and reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring the Basin Plan is implemented on time and in full. The review supports the achievement of Basin Plan outcomes and its implementation will not be delayed by the review.


The Authority has conducted the review in accordance with its functions and powers including under Sections 172 and 173 of the Water Act 2007.

The Authority has conducted a strategic review of state- and territory-based compliance and enforcement regimes in the Murray–Darling Basin, and their support for Basin Plan implementation, advising on:

  1. 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
  2. the adequacy of water measurement and monitoring arrangements, including metering
  3. the adequacy of penalty arrangements to suitably deter and punish non-compliant water use
  4. the adequacy of governance and institutional arrangements necessary to ensure legally compliant water use
  5. steps required to improve confidence in water compliance and enforcement arrangements, sufficient to underpin the integrity of Basin Plan-compliant water resources.

In undertaking this review, the Authority has considered the National Framework for Compliance and Enforcement Systems for Water Resource Management agreed by COAG in December 2009; relevant legislation and other statutory arrangements applicable in each state and the Australian Capital Territory; and relevant provisions of the Commonwealth Water Act 2007 and the Basin Plan 2012.

In addressing the terms of reference across the Basin, and given the limited time available, the review has placed emphasis on identifying the highest areas of compliance risk – while ensuring coverage of relevant issues in each of the Basin states and the Australian Capital Territory.

The Authority did seek the cooperation of Basin jurisdictions and consult with key stakeholders in conducting the review.

Independent Panel

The Independent Panel comprised of the following experts:

Allan Holmes, BSc, M Environmental Studies, FIPPA.

Allan Holmes is a former senior Victorian and South Australian public servant. He was a long serving Chief Executive of the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources in South Australia. He represented South Australia on the Murray–Darling Basin Commission and has had a long involvement with water management since the late 1970s.

Holmes has extensive operational experience in natural resource management across south eastern Australia. He has been involved in the policy and operational dimensions of compliance and enforcement of natural resource legislation over many years.

In South Australia, Holmes chairs the Coast Protection Board, is Deputy Chair of the EPA, and is a member on the Planning Commission. He has been a member of many government boards and was made a fellow of the Institute of Public Administration in 2010. He consults to government across Australia.

Abel Immaraj, MSc Engineering, Diploma of Hydraulic Engineering

Abel Immaraj has more than 27 years of experience within the water industry in public, private and non-government sectors. He has previously worked for the NSW Department of Water Resources and the Department of Land and Water Conservation managing natural resources with an emphasis on water. Immaraj was also a member of the NSW Water Reform Task Force which developed the NSW Water Management Act 2000. In 1999, Immaraj became the General Manager of NSW State Water and then inaugural Chief Executive Officer of the NSW State Water Corporation.

After moving to Brisbane in 2007 Immaraj advised the Australian Government on the Water Act 2000 (Cth) and institutional arrangements for managing water in the Murray–Darling Basin. Immaraj then led the water sector group of Hyder Consulting on independent verification of water infrastructure projects and water trading.

Since 2015 Immaraj has been the Manager Service Strategies at Queensland Urban Utilities and helped develop service strategies, the environmental policy and co-authored the publication Utility of the Future Directions. Prior to this role Immaraj was the General Manager, Regional Planning and Policy with the Queensland Water Commission and Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply. In those roles, Immaraj was responsible for providing policy and planning advice on regional water supply security, temporary alterations to dam full supply levels, supply infrastructure, demand management, water information management and drought response planning.

Eamonn Moran, PSM QC  LL.B (Hons); LL.M

Eamonn Moran QC is a barrister in private practice at the Victorian Bar.  He is a former Chief Parliamentary Counsel for Victoria.

Moran has extensive experience in water law, in both an advisory and a legislative drafting capacity.  As parliamentary counsel Moran was involved in the drafting of many items of water legislation, including the Victorian Water Act 1989.

Moran was a member of the Victorian Water Law Review Advisory Panel from 2012-2013. In 2014, Moran was appointed by the Commonwealth to chair an expert panel reviewing the Water Act 2007 (Cth).

During his career, Moran has advised government departments, universities, water corporations and other public entities extensively on constitutional and administrative law issues.  He has also been a member of the Victorian Law Reform Commission.

In recognition of his efforts, in 2005 Moran was awarded an Australian Public Service Medal (PSM) for “outstanding public service to legislative drafting and public law, and to the promotion of plain legal language”.

MDBA taskforce

George Warne, B. Bldg (Melbourne University 1982)

George Warne has lived most of his life growing-up and working within the Murray–Darling Basin. His family still farm in the Victorian Mallee and at Barham in NSW. George has extensive experience in the management of water and in broader natural resource — dependent organisations — particularly the rural land and bulk water sector. 

After 10 years in the commercial construction industry, mainly in Melbourne with Civil and Civic (Lend Lease), George became the inaugural General Manager and CEO at Murray Irrigation Ltd (Deniliquin) from 1992 onwards. During the creation of the new irrigation company in 1994 and 1995, George worked with Murray Irrigation’s board of directors to lead the irrigator’s response to the NSW Governments water reform processes in improving irrigated land utilisation, improving the efficiency of water management, recognising environmental responsibility, delivering infrastructure management and improving the quality of bulk water services in southern NSW.

After almost 15 years as CEO, in 2007, George then took on the challenging role of Managing Director of NSW State Water, the state’s rural water storage, river operations & bulk water delivery business. In both roles George had responsibility for major change management. At State Water the role required leadership during periods of both state-wide flooding of most key river systems (Jan 2011), and severe water shortages, widespread zero irrigation allocations, (and some cease-to-flow events)  caused by extended droughts-of-record throughout the river systems of NSW between 2007 and 2009. 

Soon after joining consulting firm RMCG in late 2011, George was seconded to a position of CEO of the $2bn Northern Victorian Irrigation Renewal Program, based in Shepparton, and facilitated its transition to form an important part of Goulburn Murray Water’s drive to deliver water savings and improved services to customers. After returning to RMCG in 2013, as senior consultant, George holds the position of chairman of Lipman P/L, a Sydney-based construction company, with a wide range of commercial construction projects being delivered in Sydney, throughout the Sydney basin, and in rural and coastal NSW. 


Updated: 09 Dec 2019