From 2006 onwards the NSW Ombudsman’s office has received complaints and public interest disclosures alleging that the water management principles and rules were not being properly complied with and enforced. We have undertaken three prior investigations into those complaints and disclosures that resulted in reports to Government and the Minister. We are now undertaking a fourth investigation, once again triggered by complaints from the public and public interest disclosures from officials working in the agencies charged with administering the legislation.
We are midway through the current investigation. We have already examined an extensive range of agency records and conducted formal hearings under the Ombudsman Act 1974. This progress report to the Parliament on the current investigation is prompted by a few considerations. Our inquiry is one of a number that are underway at present into similar issues. Action is currently being taken by the NSW Government to change the administrative structure for water management. Our investigation will also be continued by a new Ombudsman appointed to commence in December 2017.
In that setting it is appropriate to advise Parliament, Government and the public of the progress and direction of our current investigation. The concerns that we raised in the earlier investigations continue to be a strong theme in the current investigation, and are summarised in this progress report. Two recurring issues are whether the water compliance and enforcement function has been properly understood, supported and resourced within Government, and whether the function has suffered rather than benefitted from a frequent history of administrative restructuring. This progress report does not make findings or express concluded opinions on the issues that we are currently investigating.
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The report is in two sections. The first is a summary report written from my Office with the assistance of the Departmental Science Advisors from the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for the Environment. This overview avoids technical detail but tries to explain the core issues of public concern that have implications for policy development.
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